Easter 4A

May 05, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 10:1-10

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Acts 2:42-47

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments and Observations

    It’s funny how certain things catch on. Take, for instance, the Greek word for “fellowship”: koinonia. I don’t know when this foreign word first started to get utilized in its untranslated form. But to state the merely obvious, koinonia is now everywhere. When I punched that word into the Google Internet search engine recently, it took 0.26 seconds to have just shy of 1 million search results come back. The word popped up on websites in many different languages, promoting churches named koinonia, Christian conference grounds, schools, college and university student clubs, a foster family organization, a cooperative farm, a musical band, a Christian software firm, Bible study terms, and many, many more all named “koinonia.”

    But the really odd and funny fact of the matter is that this word hardly ever crops up in the New Testament! The word koinonia does not occur in the four gospels and is translated as “fellowship” only twelve times in the rest of the Bible. Most people think that this is some kind of key word in the Book of Acts, but in truth, koinonia occurs exactly one time in Acts 2.  What’s more, most folks assume that koinonia has mostly to do with Christians fellowshipping together, breaking bread and sharing a meal.

    But even that is a bit off the mark. Acts 2:42 is one of only three or four times in the New Testament when koinonia refers specifically to a potluck-like gathering. Most of the dozen occurrences of this word refer to our union with Christ, the fellowship we have with the Holy Spirit and with God the Father. So not only does koinonia occur rarely in the Bible, it is even more rare to find it pointing to a fellowship event such as a shared meal. In truth, the word refers to an association, a partnership, a close relationship.  In the New Testament this word refers mostly to the snug relationship we now have with God because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

    So if in the Bible koinonia is mostly about our relationship to God, what does it mean to say further that we have koinonia or fellowship with one another? What does it mean when churches have a “fellowship potluck” taking place in a “Fellowship Hall”? What does it mean when Christians take the time to break bread together? After all, people get together for meals constantly and all over the place. They gather for $1,000 per plate political fundraisers, they gather for wedding receptions and Rotary Club lunches, for an opening exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for retirement dinners, and for class reunion picnics.

    From time immemorial people have gotten together around food and drink. It is no surprise, therefore, that among the first things that happened in the earliest days of the post-Pentecost church was likewise a sharing of food. This is such a typically human thing to do that it doesn’t look especially Christian. Yet in the Christian setting, the very notion of what it means to “break bread” is freighted with a sacramental significance. For Christians there is that singular meal that can be traced all the way back to that one man who one night took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples in remembrance of him.

    These days we reserve our sacramental reverence for only that specific meal at the Lord’s table. And that is, of course, only right, proper, and orthodox. But if we have koinonia with Christ at all times, then there can be something “sacramental”  at all the tables where God’s people gather. Near as we can tell, the earliest Christians quite freely commingled their celebrations of the Lord’s Supper with their so-called “love feasts,” that ancient equivalent of a potluck. Perhaps their potlucks concluded with the specific elements of bread and wine but it is obvious that for these early Christians, the rest of the meal leading up to that one true sacrament was itself significant in terms of thickening their union with one another.

    And so perhaps it is not too much to suggest that even though we rightly believe that something spiritually real happens at the Lord’s table that does not happen at just any table, our lining up at the potluck buffets and then sharing food around common tables is not just the same kind of thing as happens at a Rotary Club lunch or some company’s annual awards banquet at the Ramada.  Instead, every occasion when Christians “break bread” in one another’s homes or in the church’s Fellowship Hall may also be sacramental in the sense that we believe the Christ of God is always with us through the Holy Spirit, and although the Spirit’s work in those settings may be different from what happens at the one table of the Lord’s Supper, that difference does not make the Spirit’s work at a potluck marginal or uninteresting.

    When we get together to share a common meal, when we are nourished together, when we swap comments about this or that dish, when we just basically celebrate the bounty of creation as we together feed our bodies, then as for the Christians in Acts 2, we find that we have glad and sincere hearts, a healthy frame of body and mind with which to praise God. Since no less than God’s Holy Spirit has been active at our various tables, we are drawn more tightly together. Bit by bit, bite by bite, fellowship meal by fellowship meal, we grow closer in the Lord.

    Compared to its relatively rare use in Scripture, the word koinonia has lately taken on a prominence that is surprising. Yet it does sum up what being a Christian in community is all about. Since we have union with Christ, we have fellowship with one another.  At our house across the years, as in untold numbers of Christian homes, we have begun to open every meal with a song that connects our ordinary meals with our ultimate hope as citizens of God’s kingdom: “Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we, may feast in Paradise with Thee”–in Paradise, where the true koinonia of the wedding feast of the Lamb will go on and on

    Illustration Idea

    Babette’s Feast is one of my all-time favorite films.  As much as anything I know of, that film’s climax is a wonderful testimony to the gift of food. But much more than that, it bears witness to the community-forming and community-healing power of Christian koinonia.

    The little Danish Christian community in the story has begun to fall apart, to the deep distress of the two sisters in charge. Their deceased father was the community’s founding pastor, and so his daughters have carried on his ministry. But now it seems to be unraveling. These fellow Christians have all-but come to blows when the sisters’ chief cook and bottle washer, Babette, invites them all to a feast–a sacrificial meal as it turns out, though no one knows this at the time. What’s more, through a funny series of theological errors, the sisters and the others come to believe there may be something untoward or sinful in the food itself. But rather than hurt Babette’s feelings, they decide to eat the meal albeit doing their level best to ignore and not even acknowledge the food and drink they consume. But despite themselves (and, let’s admit, with the help of no small amount of French wine!) the self-giving love and artistry with which Babette imbued the feast gets through to these Christians on some level. Wondrously, their fractured koinonia is restored. In the end, with glad and sincere hearts, they render praise to God.

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 23

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Peter 2:19-25

    Author: Stan Mast