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As another entry in the “Ancient Practices Series”, The Sacred Meal explores the value and meaning of the Communion. Granted, many see little value in the ages old practice, but Nora Gallagher brings to light some of the hidden uniqueness of the Eucharist and invites her readers to partake in a valued Christian Tradition, but more than that, to make that same well-worn tradition come alive once more and truly be a communion event.
The style is conversational, and in several instances, I found myself talking back to her. She is a high church Episcopalian, but an emerging artist with words. Yes, this notion of something more than symbol comes across, and it will be disconcerting to a few, but those who allow that to separate themselves from this book misses the point of the author. We all come differently to the bread and the wine, and if we let that separation endure, we miss the point of the Lord’s Supper. Included in this conversation is daily life stories from Gallagher, giving us the impression that she is walking and talking, bringing the communion event into her daily life and giving her daily life a seat at the table.
She has some weak points, such as history and theology, but this has been my complaint with this series before. There is also the seeming tendency to equalize the so-called Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the various practices shared among them. This is her starting point for the chapter on history, and then leaves the Muslim dinner to enjoin us to the 5th century. There is the obligatory mention of Justin Martyr, but instead of using this as a support to defend against a casual observance, she dismisses it as pastoral and quaint. She then moves, which should have been explored further, to the vehemently anti-Catholic strain of thought originating in the Reformation regarding the “Popish” Eucharist which prevents, by mental oppression, Protestants from enjoying the Eucharist in a literal way. Mix this with the lack of solid theological speculation, and you have a book that will appeal to many, but will not provide the answers needed to restore to the proper place the Eucharist. But, as I write this review, I am reminded that the goal of her book is to make the Eucharist assessable to everyone, but maybe I just need a more mystical bent. In her goal, however, I’ll try not to begrudge her too much, seeing that what is clearly expressed in her writing is not a deep knowledge of history of theology of the event, but more than that – more than what those things are sometimes worth – she expresses a deep and abiding love the Eucharist and for the communionity it produces each time it is taken.
While I might not advocate such a book for deep theological reflection, Gallagher’s work is needed when we see such a divisive church presently. Perhaps, we need to lay aside history and theology sometimes and engage in the daily practice of the Church’s offices. This is Gallagher’s gift and her call, that the praxis of community be restored., where even some of us heretics are welcomed by the body and the blood, the bread and the wine.