|The Sacred Meal
The Ancient Practices Series
Hard Cover, 137 pages
Author: Nora Gallagher
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First of all, thanks go out to Thomas Nelson for this review copy of The Sacred Meal.
I selected this book for review expecting a book on Communion – the Lord’s Supper – with insight into early church practice, and inspiration for continuing to make it a living practice in the church today. This book by Nora Gallagher fails to provide insight or inspiration for making Communion a living practice. Gallagher has set out to undermine the purpose and character of Communion, in my opinion. While expressing the deep love for and connection she has with Communion, she has produced a text that ignores the work of Christ, makes community an idol imbued with mystical energy, and expresses openness and justice in a way that undermines God’s holiness, power and authority.
I must admit, Gallagher uses words beautifully. Each word and phrase is a tiny work of art, full of wonder and rich imagery – little tiny stained glass windows. Her sentences combine these into little temples. But these temples are vacuous, empty of substance or power. They are frilly, sounding mystical and spiritual, but they fail to carry weight. The author seems frequently unable to carry a thought for more than two paragraphs. And what she does write with some sense of clarity has little to do with the subject of the book.
Gallagher argues that we should base our understanding of Communion on the feeding of the five thousand, rather than the Last Supper. By doing this, she seems to believe that she has removed the need to discuss Christ’s sacrifice. She also argues (unconvincingly) that Communion should be open to all, unrelated to their relationship to Christ or their sinful and rebellious behavior. Since the feeding of the five thousand was “open” and required nothing of the guests, she finds more comfort in it than she does in the restrictive Lord’s Supper, shared by Jesus’ closest companions alone, centered in his soon-to-come sacrifice for sin. The only mention she makes of sin belittles its impact or need to be addressed by the church. The blood of Christ is unworthy to be mentioned in this book except as a stylized phrase used in the Communion service.
Gallagher replaces the worship of Christ and the remembrance of his sacrifice with a web of connection felt between those who take Communion. She highlights the way in which the rejected and outcast comes to Communion on equal footing with those who have power and status, maybe even privileged guests above the latter. While the book presents a passionate interest in social justice and concern for the disadvantaged, her presentation has minimal foundation in Christ, and tenuous relationship to Communion. In order to support her views, she makes Jesus out to be little more than a misguided rabbi, and the biblical authors to have misrepresented Jesus, developing Communion with craftiness as an after-thought. She seems unwilling to treat Communion from Scripture; there are more quotes from non-biblical sources than from biblical sources, and very few of any of her references have anything to do with Communion.
In the end, she replaces the crucified Christ with the Church. She does not seat him in heaven, a position of authority and power. She diffuses him throughout creation, within the world, within us all. She comes as close as possible to have her readers worship their interconnectedness, and use this sacrament as the idol.
I give this book ★☆☆☆☆. In both character and quality it is not fit for use to teach or inspire us in relation to Communion. By failing to properly reveal Communion for the next generation, it clouds the nature of salvation, and its source.