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Weekend Reading: The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher

September 14, 2012

I rarely pay full cover price for a book. Some of my book cost me nothing. They are either gifts from family and friends or Christian publishers and promotional agencies send them to me. I look for books on closeout or clearance. The closest I ever pay to cover price is when I order a book from Amazon.com.

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of The Sacred Meal (2009, Thomas Nelson) by Nora Gallagher on sale somewhere. It is part of Thomas Nelson’s “The Ancient Practices Series”. Obviously, it is about the Christian practice known as Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

I truly love the practice of Communion. I think this is a practice that most Protestants do not take seriously enough. Most do not participate often enough to say they practice Communion.

I am planning a sermon on Communion in a couple of weeks, so I thought it would be helpful to give this a quick read. I was wrong.

The Sacred Meal is a quick and easy read and Gallagher is a wonderful writer. The book is less than 140 pages and incredibly readable. Any problems with the book are strictly with its contents. It is incredibly bad theology well written.

Gallagher is an Episcopalian trained for the priesthood who chose to not become a priest. For the sake of this review, I’ll reserve comments about what roles women should biblically play in ministry. In her local congregation, she has the role of a Lay Eucharistic Minister. Again, I will choose not to comment on the particulars of the composition of the elements of Communion (bread and wine or juice) in the differing denominations. Suffice it to say, referring to it as the “Eucharist” means something.

One of my biggest issues with the book is that Gallagher rarely referred to the root of the practice of Communion, namely the last Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples. How is it possible to gain insight into the practice and avoid its history?

In relation to Communion, Gallagher referenced the wedding at Cana and the feeding of the five thousand as “Communion” stories, but not the actual last supper. I found that very confusing.

The other frustrating thing about this book is the constant social references. I agree that we live in a consumption driven culture, often even in the church. But everything in the Bible is not intended to be primarily about changing culture and society. Culture and society are changed when the hearts of individuals are changed and they are renewing their minds through the work of the Holy Spirit. Somehow the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah made it into a book about Communion. I am still not sure how that happened.

There are many versions of why they were eventually destroyed. Prevalent among them are sadistic cruelty to beggars and visitors, murder, greed. Jewish commentaries affirm that the Sodomites committed terrible and repeated economic crimes against each other and outsiders, including rape, both homosexual and heterosexual. (page 31)

That quote was pulled from a chapter called “Waiting”, about waiting in line to receive Communion in her church.

In my opinion, your time should not be wasted with this book. The writing is truly beautiful and artistic. The subject of Communion was almost completely avoided, at least from a biblical perspective.

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