Summary: What does it mean to be a gathering of followers of Jesus and how does that link with Communion.
A catholic priest in a large and sprawling suburban parish began his Sunday worship by saying, ‘First let’s all introduce ourselves to one another. Turn to those who are seated near you and tell them who you are and find out who they are, for it would be a great shame to gather and not meet one another.’
There was pandemonium as the congregation greeted one another. When their greeting was subsiding, the priest said to them, ‘Of course, it would be an even greater shame for us to gather and not meet God!’
An encounter with the living God, or a weekly social event?
What does it really mean to come together as the Lord’s people, and gather around the Lord’s table?
I want us to look at one of the earliest accounts of the church at worship on Sunday, outside of Acts or what Paul writes in his letters.
It’s from the First Apology of Justin Martyr, (one of the first Christian apologists), and it’s a portrait of the church in about AD 90 – only about 60 years after the death of Christ!
(Article from book read about how a church in AD90 met- from William Willimon, ’Pastor’)
And so not very different from what we read in Acts 2 – it was only 30 years later – and we see 8 specific areas of a service which still really continue today.
1. The Church Gathers.
One of the earliest descriptions of the church is ekklesia. A group of people gathered together – an assembly of believers – but never a building or meeting place, always people.
It has the sense of being ‘called out’, of being ‘separate’. There’s a difference between the church and the world so we gather together.
Acts 2:44 & 46 – All the believers were together, and every day they continued to meet.
There’s something special in gathering together. It’s a time of renewal and refreshing as we seek God together, with like minded people.
You know the old analogy of the piece of coal taken from the fire, and if it’s left out too long it will go cold.
Heb 10:25, ‘Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’.
2. The Church Listens.
A major part of the early churches gatherings was the reading of Scripture, to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says.
Early church meetings were decidedly services of The Word, and this took prime importance in any time the believers were together.
And this reading of the Word was followed by the teaching.
3. The Church Learns
Acts 2:42, ‘They DEVOTED themselves to the apostles teaching.
Devoted means to be persistent, constantly dedicated, showing commitment and loyalty especially over a long period of time.
That’s not to say the long period of time is all in one go, as you might think with some of our sermons…but perhaps over weeks, months or years.
As Justin writes the ‘president’, person giving the talk/sermon, ‘admonishes and invites the people to practice these examples of virtue.’
The job of any preacher or teacher is to bring the passages written 2000 or more years ago to life in their century. To contemporise and contextualise the passage for our understanding today.
What does that passage mean for me today and how do I live it out? That’s the question it’s my job to answer!
Notice as well the verse immediately before Acts 2:42, 2:41: ‘Those who accepted his message were baptised and about 3000 were added to their number that day.’
Acts 2:42 is in fact talking about those new converts who devoted themselves to the apostles teaching.
There was immediate, regular follow up care of the new Christians because they recognised the need for growth.
People if you’re not in regular times of reading or listening God’s word and what that means for you today, you will not grow as God wants you to.
A new born baby not fed the right food will not grow as it should.
I’m reminded of the words from the chorus Breathe: ‘this is my daily bread, your very word, spoken to me’.
Friends, God’s word is food for your soul. Don’t go hungry!
4. The Church Prays
Acts 2:42, ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and TO PRAYER’.
Interceding to God for each other – that is the needs of the church as individuals within it, for the church as a body of Christ across the world and for those outside of the church both known personally and those unknown to us.
The listening to and learning from God’s Word moves the church toward a responsive speaking to God in prayer. The church shares in Christ’s high priestly ministry of intercession to God for the world.