It’s A Meal
If you are looking for a strictly theological analysis of Communion then The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher is not for you. But, if you are interested in fleshing out this ancient practice from a human perspective you won’t find it done any better in any other book.
Although theology is exciting to every minister, especially those in waiting, without a measure of humanity, like doe without yeast, it just doesn’t rise. Instead of melting in your mouth it breaks your teeth.
Yes, theology is significant but when not well mixed with life it becomes academic, cold, hard, stiff, mechanical, single dimensional and pretty much useless for anything other than a verbal fist fight. Nora illustrates that without saying it.
Don’t get me wrong. Nora doesn’t bypass theology. She is preacher-in-residence at Trinity Episcopal Church, Santa Barbara – otherwise known as Anglican – and is familiar with all the arguments associated with this ordinance (sacrement) but instead of joining in the usual fray associated with this tradition she speaks from the heart, draws on her own experience and touches the human side of the issue.
And she does this in spite of the fact that no other denomination observes the practice more monotonously than Episcopalians. Every service, every week. Instead of offending anyone’s theology she broadens the view and gives it a fuller perspective.
- Yes, Episcopalians do believe salvation grace is conferred through the observance of communion – that’s why they observe it so frequently – but Nora doesn’t emphasize this. She never actually says it but instead points out the commercial sources where the elements are produced, suggesting under the breath that maybe this can’t be.
- Yes, they observe communion very ceremoniously but in spite of this Nora finds a way to emphasize the fact that it is a meal and the table is where humans connect with each other and with God. Kneeling beside your antagonist and sharing in the meal tends to dissolve differences. She points out that communion can’t be done alone and it is difficult to eat with someone regularly and hate them at the same time. I thought it amazing that she picked up on this. The meal aspect of the observance is usually buried beneath all the harping over meaning, tradition and rules in all the churches. Most miss the point.
- Yes, she and her denomination are highly politicized but from her take on communion you begin to realize their “invite everyone” approach is more about including people than approving them or gaining a consensus. It is inclusive not exclusive and opens the door for further ministry. It is a first step to evangelism not a political statement. Even if you think that is wrong, it is a fact that exclusive approaches to communion, whatever the form, usually turns even “acceptable” people away and does little for faithful observers.
Even though, semantically, her approach to Scripture seems more metaphorical than literal her interpretations don’t deny the literal meaning. If anything, it enhances it. And the truth is, everyone is a bit metaphorical. We love to put hidden meanings on literal statements.
Even though she is familiar with higher criticism it doesn’t dominate her conclusions. She actually takes an experimental approach to discovering God’s meanings: attending a Passover meal at a local temple and a Ramadan ending feast with Muslims, and comes up with some very interesting insights.
Even though she observes the Lord’s Supper as an Episcopalian regularly, she has also taken it in a Catholic church and observed it in a Congregational Church. She points out that in the early church their was no standard format for this observance.
No, Nora would never be classified as an absolute conservative but her understanding of this particular issue is very fundamental. The Eucharist for her is a meal and meets us where life happens.
Get the book inexpensively at Amazon. Even if you disagree you’ll be better for it. The Lord’s Table will never be the same.
The Sacred Meal was provided free of charge by BookSneeze in return for which I have written the preceding book review. No additional remuneration was given and no controls were imposed on my opinions. All the ideas expressed here are entirely my own.