I have to go back to the discussion of baptism in the Didache community that I covered in my last post about Aaron Milavec’s The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary. He gives us a scenario where the community meets together after fasting for baptisms. My impression is that the community would be concentrated in a locality.
But the instructions about baptism imply that sometimes the community had a river or stream with running water nearby, sometimes a pool or bath with standing water, and sometimes very little water at all. This seems to me to count against the concentration of the community. Was the document used in widely scattered groups some of whom lived in cities, some in monastery-like compounds, and some in really primitive and arid places? I am not saying that this negates Milavec’s interpretation, but that it gives a different impression than I have gotten so far. Perhaps his view of the community’s situation will become more clear later.
Chapers 9 and 10 of The Didache concern the Eucharist. According to Milavec these instructions were for a first communion meal after baptism. The chapters consist mostly of verbatim prayers to go with the occasion.
What is striking is that these prayers do not at all pick up the theme from the synoptic gospels and Paul that the Lord’s Supper relates closely the crucifixion of Jesus. There is no mention of the bread being the broken body or the wine being poured out blood. There is no mention of anything related to the passion story.
The Didache’s prayers say that the cup represents the vine of David and that the bread represents how grain growing in scattered places comes together to form one loaf just as the community has been gathered from the ends of the earth (the gentile mission) into God’s kingdom. There is what might seem like a spiritualistic or gnostic tendency. Eucharistic prayers thank God for “ life and knowledge” revealed in Jesus and for “knowledge, faith, and immortality” given through Jesus, the servant.
But Milavec holds that these were prayers for a first communion after baptism. So they may give us only a small, particular piece of the community’s theology.
(First communion is a thing in churches that restrict participation the Lord’s Supper to those who have been baptized or confirmed after coming of age. My own denomination has wide open communion, so first communion is a lost concept. But the Didache says not to let anyone eat or drink except those who have been baptized.)
Milavec’s scenario is that the newly baptized communicants have lost their fathers, mothers, siblings, homes and livelihoods because of following Jesus. Now, paired with new spiritual fathers or mothers, they eat a new meal with their new family.
The newly baptized undoubtedly felt a great sense of gratitude for Jesus and for their “father” or “mother” who, being God’s chosen servants, had personally revealed these things to them and who, during the Eucharist, had extended to them the cup of election and the bread of life.
To pick up on some things that Milavec asserted earlier, this is a community of outcasts who adopt the “Way” of Jesus through a process of apprenticeship to male or female master teachers who have individually mentored them each.
This celebration of the meal is the culmination of the process.
Furthermore, the prayers show that the Eucharist was a forward-looking event. It involved a personal commitment to a new future. The newly baptized had been cut off socially from Roman society. Now they celebrated a new social reality, a new group identity. They anticipated a new world where their hopes would not be shattered again, but fulfilled by God.
I think there is a superficial resemblance between the Didache and works like the Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical document, Q, that is supposed to be behind the common material in Matthew and Luke. The synoptic and Pauline stress upon the cross is absent in them all . However, as I think about the Didache, I see more a trajectory toward John’s gospel than toward the heresies of the second century. The ideas of the Bread of Life, Jesus as the Vine, the water-into-wine and feeding-the-multitude nature miracles in John all develop themes that are in these prayers from the Didache.
However, the fact that the death and resurrection of Jesus do not figure in here probably has something to do with the Didache not getting into the New Testament. It was not gospel in the sense that the church came to understand the gospel as centering in the death and resurrection of Jesus.