100 love feasts

Love feast, Church of the Brethren in Rwanda
Photo by Chris Elliott

By Chris Elliott serving with the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda on behalf of the Office of Global Mission

Because the Church of the Brethren in central Africa is still young, the ordinances we are so familiar with in the US are new here. The Brethren in the Africa Great Lakes have neither a foundation of tradition nor any baggage of hang-ups, bringing advantages and disadvantages. For me personally, having participated and/or officiated in more than 100 love feasts, I can pretty much go through it on autopilot. If I’m not intentional, I can easily lose sight of the beauty and significance of the ceremony. Introducing our African sisters and brothers to it has been a great joy and has restored my own passion for it.

Marla Abe, Gary Benesh, Galen Hackman, and I have led groups through several teaching sessions since 2016. It is a relatively small number of us that have had both the privilege and the responsibility of this, which is a sort of scary thought. Fewer people than the fingers on one hand are laying the foundation for a lot of new Brethren. If nothing else I want to thank you all for your prayers and support–and for trusting us with such an important task.

My favorite story from those early teaching sessions comes from Congo in 2016. Gary, Marla, and I had a good teaching time of explaining the parts of the love feast service, along with the biblical basis for it all, including the holy kiss. Regarding the holy kiss, I shared that the old tradition was for a kiss on the lips, but depending on the cultural context, it could be a hug and/or a kiss on the cheek, at the very least a handshake. To finish out the session we wanted to have a brief demonstration. We put four chairs in the front and enlisted 3 volunteers. I washed the feet of the first, then he washed the feet of the next, and so on, while I went to sit in the fourth seat and take off my shoes. Pastor Aluta washed my feet and when we stood for the embrace, he smothered me with “holy kisses!” Definitely an event I will never forget!

Expert Bukene, lead pastor/bishop of the Church of the Brethren in Burundi, began instituting the feet washing and communion as he read about it in “A Dunker’s Guide to Brethren History.” For whatever reason, he didn’t pick up on the meal part of the service. When I met him for the first time last fall and explained the three-part love feast, he went back home determined to “do it right.” Five months later, Pastor Etienne and I went to Burundi to visit. The other pastors excitedly told us that they were looking forward to the upcoming love feast on Maundy Thursday. Their bishop had promised to buy a lamb!

The Brethren in Rwanda have had several love feasts since 2016, so the one we observed on Easter Sunday afternoon was not their first. The morning worship service was a resurrection celebration of nearly 5 hours. It was followed with the love feast meal of lamb, beans, potatoes, ugali, and rice.  One of the pastors had butchered the lamb on Saturday.

As we moved toward the feet washing portion, I sensed that they were a little uncertain about procedure. Since this was the first time they had done it with a “muzungu” (a Swahili term for a Caucasian person) present, they watched me very closely as I demonstrated by washing and drying pastor Patrick’s feet, then hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. They seemed much more confident going forward from there. It truly was a beautiful time of fellowship and sharing.

The deacons prepared the bread and cup by first cutting white bread into half-size pieces and pouring Vital-O (a locally produced fruit flavored soft drink) into small communion cups. The elements were then passed to everyone. My preference at this point is for one of the local pastors to lead in the comments and prayer, as it can be awkward for me to share something solemn through a translator.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had a part in more than 100 love feasts–but this was my first one in Africa.

Learn more about the Church of the Brethren in Rwanda at www.brethren.org/global or support their ministry today at www.brethren.org/give-rwanda.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Are we still at the tomb?

Photo by TC Perch

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

Do you remember where you were on Aug. 23, 2011?

I do.

I was working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in downtown Harrisburg. At first the day was no different than any other day, but around 2 p.m. things just didn’t seem right. I can’t fully explain the panic that came across me as I thought I was feeling the building move. At first I thought it was my imagination.

Suddenly I knew I didn’t want to be in the building, and I wasn’t alone. We headed for the stairwell and rushed out-side. By the time we congregated, we heard the news:  There had been a 5.8-magnitude earthquake around Mineral, Va., just over 200 miles to the south.

Matthew 28 begins with a violent earthquake as the women were gathering at the tomb of Jesus to care for his body. What went through their minds? Where is he? Did someone take him? Maybe they felt sick to their stomachs, or light-headed. Maybe they were confused and afraid.

But the angel said, “Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there’” (Matthew 28:7, CEB).

Matthew says that they ran—with “great fear and excitement”—to deliver the message to the eleven. He wasn’t there! There was an earthquake did you feel it? And this angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb told us to look for ourselves to see that Jesus wasn’t there.

Then Jesus himself “met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him” (v. 9).

He said to tell the others he will meet them in Galilee. Off they went, full of joy as they exclaim to the disciples:  He did it! He isn’t dead. And we saw him! Touched him! Held onto him for dear life. He told us to tell you he’ll meet you in Galilee. You can’t stay here hidden, you must go and meet him. He’ll be there!

Some of the disciples went to the tomb to see for them-selves, according to other Gospel accounts. They just couldn’t comprehend what the women were telling them. Why didn’t they believe them? Why didn’t they have faith?

Why don’t we? Do we continue to stare into an empty tomb?

What Jesus did in those three days was revolutionary! He conquered death. The fear of death is gone; the hope for eternal life is now what we wait for. “Do not be afraid!” the angel said. “Do not be afraid!” Christ said. Our relationship with a risen Savior gives us assurance that we no longer need to fear death. The mystery is still there; we have no way of truly understanding physical death until we go through it, but we do not need to fear it.

He took on our sins so that we would have a way to reconcile ourselves back to God without sacrifice. Without burnt offerings. Without priestly intercession. We have been given the Holy Spirit—God not only with us but in us.

That is worth running with excitement to share with others!

When I felt the tremors 10 years ago, I couldn’t get out of that building fast enough. When the women learned that Jesus was alive, they couldn’t get to the disciples fast enough.

Are we ready to stop being afraid? Afraid of congregations leaving? Of the dwindling size of the denomination here in the United States? Are we ready to run from emptiness and move forward in faith knowing that “he who is in me is greater than he who is in the world”?

Let us run with joy to tell our neighbors the good news of Jesus!

This reflection was originally featured in the April issue of Messenger magazine. Learn about the faith-building mission and ministries of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/greatthings or give an Easter offering to support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)