A Lovefeast today in Moravian churches is not a sacrament but a worship meal experience shared by brothers and sisters in Christ. The meal usually consist of some type of sweet bread, coffee or chocolate milk. The food is served to pew worshippers by dieners ( servers) and may vary by congregation or occasion. There is no prescribed menu, although each congregation enjoys its own traditions..
We Moravians do not have the stations of the cross, like Catholics do. We do not have a passion play like the medievals did. We do not preach on the seven last words the way many Baptists do. We do something unique, which many biblical scholars say is wrong to do. We gather every evening of Holy Week to read out loud from a harmony of the gospels, beginning with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and ending with the burial. This custom dates to the late 1700s.
Some things do get lost in such a harmony of the gospels, some of the differences and nuances get obscured, and we do not claim that the harmony is Scripture. There is no sermon at most of these services during Holy Week. Just readings, and lots of congregational singing. A single hymn verse is sung in response to each selection from the Readings for Holy Week. Sometimes there is simply silence. What happens during this week is that we hear many of the teachings of Jesus in context, rather than spread out randomly through the lectionary.
We spend a great deal of time sitting at the feet of Jesus like Mary listening to the teachings and controversies.
- We are there at the cleansing of the temple and have time to contemplate how Jesus would enter our sanctuaries.
- We read the last supper account from the synoptics as well as John and contemplate the significance of Jesus’ last instructions to the twelve, whom he loved.
- We are there when Jesus shares his bread with the betrayer, and we are there when he washes the feet of Peter who denies him.
- We see the anguish and grief, and we do not turn our gaze away at the end.
- We stand with the women and watch as a member of the Sanhedrin asks for the body.
- We share in Holy Communion and we also share in the Agape meal.
The words and hymns are the same year after year, but the experience is different. Some years I hear the woes to the scribes and hypocrites directed at me. Some years I am Peter whose heart breaks at the crowing of the cock. Some years I am the beloved laying my head on Jesus’ breast. Some years I am Malchus in the garden caught up in things I do not understand and being healed of the violence I’ve participated in. Some years I am Pilate asking cynically about truth. Some years I am one who mocks, and some years I am Magdalene lost in grief.
So many sermons unspoken year after year, so much room for the Spirit to speak through an ancient story. So much to ponder from Palm Sunday to Great Sabbath. And then, we wait in the glooming, before dawn to hear the words “the Lord is risen.” We gather in the cemetery to remember those who have died while we face the rising sun. We confess our faith in the midst of grief, and sing with joy in the midst of pain. We repeat words about redemption and reconciliation and we recommit ourselves to the service of the risen Lord. And then we eat. Return to Top
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Adopted in one form or another by most churches as a Christmas Vigil Service, this celebration is so popular in Lititz that the Christmas Vigil Service is scheduled six times during Advent.
Beginning in absolute darkness the Moravian Star hung high in the sanctuary begins to glow as a solo voice and the choir in hushed tones sings the familiar German “Stille Nacht, heilege Nacht!” The choir with organ and orchestra leads with hymns and anthems in the manner of Singstunde, wonderfully combining music and the Word. At the height of the musical experience a child leads in the antiphonal hymn, “Morning Star, O Cheering Sight.”
At the appropriate moment the dieners (servers) in traditional costume process into the sanctuary with baskets of sweetened buns and trays of coffee and chocolate milk for the Christmas Lovefeast. During the common meal the choir sings Christmas hymns and anthems sustaining the festival of love and goodwill that is truly a celebration of Christmas. After the Lovefeast the dieners return in procession aglow with hundreds of candles positioned on special trays. The candles of beeswax and tallow are hand-made by members of the congregation. At the bottom of each candle is a hand-made non-flammable paper frill. Some say the beeswax and tallow symbolize the humanity of Christ, the lighted wick His Divinity; and the white frill His purity. Others say that it simply reminds us that Jesus said: “I am the Light of the World.”
After the candles have been distributed and during the singing of the last hymn, a Christmas version of the favorite Moravian hymn "Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!", worshipers hold their candles aloft as a prayer that they want Christ's light to shine in their hearts and through their living in a way that they fulfill the call of Jesus to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). Return to Top
Originating in the Moravian boarding schools in Germany in the nineteenth century as an exercise in geometry, the stars were carried throughout the world by missionaries and other church workers. Now, from the Himalayas to the Caribbean, the star proclaims the hope of Advent. While we are most familiar with the white star, the first star had alternating red and white points. Stars colors have also included red and yellow, white and yellow, and a yellow “starburst” with a red center.
The Star itself symbolizes Jesus Christ who was born to be the Light of the World. The many points reach out to all mankind in all parts of the world. Moravians, as a predominantly mission-oriented group, relate to this focus. Return to Top