A book I received from Thomas Nelson to review has sat on my shelf far too long.
The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series
by Nora Gallagher is a short read on Communion. It is not about the big words (transubstantiation or consubstantiation or any other ones).
She reflects simply on the meaning of communion. Over the centuries the Church has done a fair job of masking the importance of communion. In my own tradition (Pentecostal) we have not understood this sacred meal as the early church understood it. As a pastor, I have moved my church to weekly communion and put it almost center stage. This book is a great help in teaching my congregation why communion is so vital.
Gallagher breaks it down into three main areas: the waiting, the receiving, and the afterward. In the waiting, there is the examination. We wait as we go up to receive communion. As we get ready to receive there should also be an awareness that we are stepping into a practice much older than our current “church.” We are being connected to a world much older than ourselves. Our participation is re-creating this “old world” practice. We are going to a place that is not always visible by daily life.
In the examination is also the look at what hinders us from reaching God and loving others. I loved her definitions of “sin.” We think it’s about “bigger stuff” (like sexual immorality). Often we need to repent of the “little stuff” (like being addicted to the internet and thus cutting off the opportunity to deepen real relationships). The question really is, “What is separating me from God?”
In the waiting we are to examine our allegiances. Are we really assimilating into the Kingdom of God? The table is a great place to examine those attitudes.
In the receiving we are jolted by the fact that we are doing nothing. All we do in this culture is geared toward doing something. It is about productivity. Receiving at the altar is about inhabiting the present.
We hesitate at times because if we open our hands to receive something we may not know what is going to come in. We want to control the situation. It may also mean we’re saying, “I need something,” and we’re not always comfortable with that attitude.
We are receiving Christ. He is the bread of heaven. He is the wine that brings new life. He gives himself. Are we willing to receiving?
In the afterward there is the understanding that grace meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. Communion can be a very powerful experience. We may want to dwell in that presence. But it is temporary. We have to move back into the world, but understanding his presence is truly with us.
Weekly we are undergoing transformation. His presence touches us and slowly our spiritual muscles are being formed. There will be powerful encounters at times. It is not unreasonable to expect those encounters at the table of the Lord.
I am grateful Gallagher doesn’t slip into theological arguments about the “actual” body and blood. She keeps things focused on the practice and experience of communion. We are invited to be players in this great narrative and we would do well to take up our part with great care.
She has wonderful stories to illustrated the power of communion. She keeps the history of communion very brief. My one caveat here is she makes the same mistake most Christians make regarding Constantine and Christianity. Constantine did not make Christianity the official language of the Roman Empire. He did allow religious freedom. There are still problems when Christianity became so accepted, but I don’t like seeing an error repeated so much.
This is a great read to help walk through the importance of the table of the Lord. We need to value this practice in our lives and allow transformation to take place on a regular basis.
This book was sent as a review copy from Thomas Nelson. I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sacred Meal”
Excellent review, Dan! You really gave us a good idea of what the book is like, and I have to say it’s a book I need to read! Thanks!
Thanks, Gary. While I’m sure there are things to disagree with (and when we talk about Communion, the battle is on!), I found her approach very refreshing. I can set aside a lot of things when we’re just keeping it basic!