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by Linda Clay, Zambia Project Founder and Founder's Award Recipient
The First Reading for the Second Sunday of Easter provides insight into the practices of the earliest followers of Jesus as they developed what we would call today a Christian “lifestyle.” Their practices, according to Biblical scholar Thomas Constable, “challenge every modern Christian.” Are we really expected to sell everything we own and share our wealth with anyone and everyone? Constable points out that there was no command to have “all things in common,” but the earliest Christians did so voluntarily in response to the “love thy neighbor” theme so dominant in the teachings of Jesus. Most Christians today find the concept of communal sharing of wealth and possessions as admirable but entirely unreasonable. As William Sloane Coffin writes in Passion for the Possible, most Christians have “…found the ideal beyond the capacity of frail mortals.”
On the other hand, the notion of joyful, prayerful fellowship around shared meals has been, well… easier to swallow. Most churches have periodic occasions that bring the faithful together for “breaking of bread” both in the Lord’s Supper and in communal meals. But the scriptures tell us that the earliest Christians shared communal meals together daily, in homes, in prayer, in conversation, in joyful celebration, in devotion to God, in commitment to one another. Given the rushed pace in which most of us live, does this example of communal living exist anywhere in today’s world?
It does. In the beautiful rolling hills of rural Zambia, students from the Zambia Project and I sat around a table in a simple house with a simple meal in the candlelight (no electricity) and in absolute quiet, except for tender conversation with our hosts, the teachers at Chifwema School. The meal begins with a hand washing ritual. One person pours warm water over each person’s hands held over a large bowl. A heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving is offered by a community member who has so little in possessions but so much in faith and optimism. There is no rush to finish; the food is taken patiently while stories are quietly shared. Like the Christians of the Jerusalem church, our Zambian friends take nourishment “…with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.”