The Sacred Meal – Review

The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices SeriesThe Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series by Nora Gallagher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found Gallagher’s book simultaneously illuminating and infuriating. To start on a positive note, Gallagher definitely has a gift for writing. I’m used to reading fat books by scholars on this subject, but Gallagher brings a lot of wit and earthy wisdom to this topic. And, I’ll certainly agree that the scholars have muddied the waters quite a bit. Jesus told us to do something really simple, but we’ve managed to fragment this sacrament of unity into a hundred thorny questions. Gallagher’s catchy metaphors appropriately turn our attention away from whatever might be going on “inside” the bread, and she exhorts us to remember that “we” are the Body of Christ, when we gather as the Church. When we take communion, she exhorts us to “Look around you,” something I’ve said when I’ve administered communion. Don’t try to conjure up some deep, mystical experience–just look around at all other messed up people that God is in the process of healing. Gallagher has many wonderful stories about her experiences with partaking, and administering, communion–stories about real people being transformed by ancient rite. She helps us to look at this “ancient practice” from lots of new angles, and I think much of what she says is spot on and quite helpful.

But … there were a few parts which made me gag a little. I think Gallagher is far too quick to buy into the neo-liberal reading of Jesus which highlights Jesus’ supposed critique of “empire.” Now, I freely confess that we should do more to care for the poor. I confess that our government is not righteous. I acknowledge that there are more than a few unsettling analogies between America hegemony and the pagan Roman Empire. But, I’m just not convinced that this is the right way to read the Jesus narratives. However, I will agree enthusiastically with one of Gallagher’s conclusions: “So part of waiting in Communion is examining what we did last week to find the kingdom of heaven in our midst and to help others find it” (pg. 37).

A quibble–I didn’t really buy her imaginative reconstruction of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:21-28). I find Kenneth Bailey’s interpretation much more convincing (see Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, ch. 16).

Lastly, I believe Gallagher goes too far in her desire to be inclusive and welcoming. She writes: “Communion is so important to me that I don’t think there should be rules about who can take it and who cannot” (pg. 88). Now, I fully applaud the motive here. I’m trying to write a dissertation on some of the reasons why churches should celebrate the Supper more often. It’s important to me. But not more important than the Word of God. Gallagher doesn’t want to create “rules” about who can, and who can’t, take Communion (pg. 89). The only problem is that the Apostle Paul lays down some pretty tough rules in 1 Cor. 11:27-32. Perhaps Gallagher has some exegetical reasons for why Paul isn’t setting up some sort of “fence” around the Table. If so, it would have been nice to have those reasons summarized. She also appears to drive off the cliff of tolerance when she writes: “Thieves are welcome here, and embezzlers; so are murderers and prostitutes and sex abusers and those who have been or are abused … Everyone.” (pg. 92). Now, I agree that no sin should keep us away from the Table, but I would add that no sin we “repent” of, should keep us away. What about 1 Cor. 5:11? When Jesus refused to condone the stoning of the woman caught in adultery, he did not just dismiss her sin. He commanded her, “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (Jn. 8:11). The Eucharist is medicine for sick souls, and repentance (the process of turning away from sin) must be part of how approach the Table (Ro. 6:22).

I’m thankful to Gallagher for writing this book, and for forcing us to re-think a ritual that so many of us take for granted.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

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The Eucharist & Ecumenism

The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast (Current Issues in Theology) The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast by George Hunsinger

Hunsinger is amazing. Not only is he a top-knotch theologian who finds significant common ground between the Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodoxy, but he also manages to argue for women’s and gay ordination in a logical and level-headed way. I disagree stridently with him on women’s and gay ordination, but he is still a model for peaceful discussion. There is a time for calling down the wrath of God, but we must also demonstrate that we aren’t frothing-at-the-mouth fundamentalists.

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Luther on the Fruit of Holy Communion

I love Luther.  He’s so practical and pastoral!  This is from a sermon entitled, “Confession and the Lord’s Supper”:

“But if you feel that you are unfit, weak and lacking in faith, where will you obtain strength but here [the Lord’s Supper]?  Do you mean to wait until you have grown pure and strong, then indeed you will never come and you will never obtain benefit from the holy communion” (207).

“It is our duty to let the benefit and fruit of the Lord’s Supper become manifest, and we ought to show that we have received it with profit … Now this is the fruit, that even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink; and this by no means in jest, but in all seriousness, meaning to offer yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had, in the sacramental words” (208).

“Therefore, when we have received the Lord’s Supper we must not allow ourselves to become indolent, but must be diligent and attentive to increase in love, aid our neighbor in distress, and lend him a helping hand when he suffers affliction and requires assitance.  When you fail to do this you are not a Christian, or only a weak Christian, though you boast of having received the Lord and all that he is, in the Lord’s Supper” (210-11).

– all from The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1

Eucharistic Meditation

The Lord’s Supper is a family meal.  What would you think of a family which didn’t allow their adopted children to eat dinner with the family?  I hope we would all condemn them and probably excommunicate them if they did not repent.  But, what if, after they met with the elders, they decided to not serve the adopted children dinner until the adopted children were old enough to decide whether they really wanted to be part of the family?  Or, what if they refused to serve the adopted children dinner until they could discern whether the adopted children were really acting like good members of the family?  I think we all see the folly of this mindset. The family that eats together stays together.  If we want our adopted children to feel like part of the family, we treat them like part of the family.  We don’t wait for them to make a decision to join our family.  They are a part of our family, and they have right to join us at the family table.

God has adopted us into His family.  God feeds us at His table.  This is how he builds up his family.  He invites us to partake of His Son in faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And He invites all of us, including our children.  If they are baptized, then they are also His adopted children.  If you feed your children at home, then you need to feed them here.  But, you can’t feed them here.  You need to bring them to the Lord’s Table, where God feeds all of his adopted children.

Academic Mission Opportunity

I came across an exciting mission opportunity for academics. This organization sends Christian teachers into other countries, finding positions for them in secular universities. A quote on their home-page says it all:

“The university is a clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. Change the university and you change the world,”
declared Dr. Charles Malik, former president of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.

Ascension and the Lord’s Supper

The Ascension of Christ is essential to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper.  Of course, most of what happens to us at this Table remains a mystery, but we can say a few things, given what we know about Christ.  We know that Christ is in heaven, seated at the Father’s right hand.  We also know that Jesus Christ still has a resurrection body.  Many Christians have never thought about this, but it is true.  John says that we don’t know what the resurrection will be like, but we know that we will be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2).  And we know that Jesus had a real body that Thomas could touch and feel.  Jesus ate and drank after his resurrection.  This table prepares us for heaven.  Revelation tells us that heaven will be the wedding feast of the Lamb.  We will eat and drink with Jesus in heaven.  We are eating and drinking with him now, in the Church.  But, we often assume heaven will be less than what we know now.  We think we’ll float around, playing harps.  But, what if heaven is an eternal banquet with tastes and pleasures that would make your mind explode now?  Perhaps, when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding at Cana, he was bringing a little bit of heaven to earth.  Whatever heaven will be, we must guard against the gnostic heresy, which says our bodies are not important to our salvation.  Christ came to save the world, including our bodies.  In the Ascension, Christ took a human body back up to heaven.  Things have changed at the center of the universe.  We can’t go back.  A grand and glorious party is coming.  Don’t be left behind.  If you’ve been baptized, and are not under church discipline, then you are already wearing the wedding garments, and you need to come to this party.

Eucharistic Meditation – Rogation Sunday

Gathering around this Table every Lord’s Day reminds us over and over again that we are part of God’s household.  God adopts us as his children.  Though our earthly families may crumble apart and though death may separate us from those we love, we are never separate from God’s love.  Often God takes things away from us so that we learn to appreciate them more.  But, the only thing which can keep us from this Table is our own stubborn refusal to repent of our sin.  Though God may take our husband, wife, or our children, he will not cast us out of his house.  As long as we are his children, we have a place at this Table.  As long as we are his children, he will feed us.  Let’s enjoy the fellowship we have with each other now, while it lasts on this earth.  Our earthly fellowship will be disrupted by death.  We will all die.  But, even that is only temporary.  We will fellowship with each other again in heaven.  We will fellowship with those that God has already taken to himself.  Paul was torn between remaining with the Church in his body or being with the Lord in his spirit.  We may think of old age and of losing our spouse with fear and uncertainty.  How will we make it?  God will give us strength for the day.  And God gives us strength for each day through the ministry of the Church.  God gives us strength for each day through this Table.