During this unusual and challenging time, I have found comfort, inspiration, and engagement spiritually in reflecting on the history of the Church. Some of this is revisiting things I learned about in seminary, other aspects are new avenues of learning. But as we move through the Easter season, I thought it might be of value to share with you the story of how we came to where we are today in hopes that you might find enrichment, comfort, and inspiration as well.
For source material, I am relying heavily on three sources: From Age to Age by Edward Foley, The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity edited by John McManners, and New Testament Story: an Introduction by David Barr.
The first century of Christianity, those first few generations of Christians some of whom had first- or second-hand accounts of Christ’s resurrection, had a worshipping community that was still deeply connected to Judaism to the point that many were still regularly participating in the rituals and traditions of the synagogue. Every Jewish family had space set aside in their homes for daily prayer, and this space as well as the communal rooms of the home became the location of early Christian gatherings. There were no sacred texts that were not part of the Hebrew Bible, but were supplemented by letters, oral preaching, or essays composed by early evangelists like Paul.
Even before Jesus’ life the distinction between music and speech, especially in the context of worship, was not distinct. Cantors would read sacred texts and prayers in rhythmic patterns of chant. What early Christian music has been discovered appears to be co-opted by existing Jewish music.
First Century Christians observed Sunday worship, and a form of the Eucharist, in the homes and apartments of believers, using a common cup to recreate the Last Supper, likely for two reasons. Most people at the time had one cup for each member of a household, but not separate cups for guests. A gathering of people for any social event would require the use of a cup for multiple people. So not only were participants in these early communions recreating Jesus’ actions, but likely acting of out necessity as well, using the vessels and implements available in the home.
Next week: the post-New Testament era of Christianity and the continual growth and change of liturgical life.
Yours in Christ,