In The Sacred Meal, Nora Gallagher seeks to explain the significance of Communion – the Eucharist – the Lord’s Supper – the Agape Feast. She writes as one who has served the bread and the wine at many communion services primarily in the Episcopal denomination.
I must begin this review with a couple of confessions. First, I grew up in a different Christian tradition with a different understanding of the Supper. Second, I have since come to understand Communion as a completely different “practice” than either of these two traditions (the author’s or my own).
This book is part of a series called “The Ancient Practices Series.” Gallagher explains her understanding of the difference between a “practice” and a “habit”:
To engage in a practice is to show up and not get attached to the outcome. Unlike a habit, like driving down the same street from work to home every day, the purpose of a spiritual practice is to help us stay awake. Hidden in this kind of repetition is the chance that on any given day, the mind or soul will connect with what is waiting to connect to us. (pg xix)
The practice to which she refers is, of course, Communion. In her practice, Communion consists of standing in line with strangers (per the author’s description) to accept a wafer of bread and a sip of wine (or perhaps to dip the bread in the wine).
The book, then, is her attempt to add significance to this practice. She does so by retelling several episodes in her own life around the event of communion. The stories are told in a vivid and easy-to-read fashion which causes the reader to empathize with the author and the other characters in the story.
Gallagher divides her book into eleven chapters and a study guide. She invites her readers to consider the “waiting,” the “receiving,” and the “afterward” of a communion service. She also wants her readers to connect to God through various experiences, including experiences of communion.
The author does manage to attach significance to the symbol of a meal. She attaches significance from the life of Jesus, and from her own life. She presents the symbol of a table that is open to anyone, from alcoholics and drug addicts to the religious elite.
The problem with this book is actually not the author’s problem. The problem lies in the traditional understanding of “Communion.” The author does not tie the significance of “Communion” back to scriptural passages about “Communion.” Why? Because the taking of a wafer and a sip of wine cannot be connected to the meal that we find in the pages of the New Testament.
Thus, today, we must find significance in the symbol of a table, instead of gathering around a real table. We partake of a symbol of a meal, instead of sharing in the Lord’s Supper. We share the elements of the Eucharist, instead of thanking God for the food that we share with one another. We stand in line with strangers for “Communion service,” instead of actually sharing fellowship with our brothers and sisters. We call a wafer and a sip a feast, instead of truly sharing a love feast (Agape feast).
I’m not blaming Gallagher. This search for significance in the “Supper” or “Communion” or “Eucharist” has been going on for many, many years. And, it will continue until we put away the symbols and start sharing in the supper itself… a supper that is a real meal with real people with whom we share real relationships with Jesus as the real host.
(I received this book for free from BookSneeze.com in exchange for this review.)