The Sacred Meal by Nora Gallagher
“It’s Easter Sunday. A group of men are in prison. They are part of the more than ten thousand political prisoners in this country’s jails. They wan to celebrate communion, but they have no wine, no bread, no cup, no priest…”We have no bread, not even water to use as wine,” their leader says to them, “but we will act as though we have.”
Such is the nature of the Lord’s Table in Christian practice. In all conditions, in wealth and in want, practiced with liturgical precision or among small groups, the Bread and the Cup were given as a constant reminder of the presence of Christ with His people until the day He returns. Nora Gallagher surveys the thoughts and emotions of those who serve and receive the elements, giving us a glimpse of the complexity of the Eucharist.
At the heart of her writing is Ms. Gallagher’s thread of our common connection. In each approach to the table she emphasizes how participation in communion serves as a binding force, tying you and I together even when have allowed the intrusion of negative influences to drive us apart. This is a biblical truth that is often dismissed. We may not be on speaking terms with one of our ‘brothers’ or angry with a ‘sister’. The manner is which we structure our lives enables us to avoid those we dislike or are in conflict with, separating the idea of a common inheritance given in the Scriptures, and our practice of daily living. Approaching the table, on the other hand, allows us no shadow in which to hide. Whether it be a common cup or the same loaf from which we pull our piece of bread, we cannot escape the fact of our familial heritage.
Many will find Nora’s overly poetic work attractive. Those of a more analytical bent will struggle to find meaning in personal memories and sudden realizations that Ms. Gallagher utilizes to illustrate her points. This is little practical material in this volume, so those seeking methods or liturgy are directed elsewhere. For one who seeks a contemplative consideration of the practice and effect of the Table, The Sacred Meal will be satisfying.
I am grateful to Thomas Nelson for providing this review copy.
The celebration of the various seasons of the historical church calendar has largely fallen from favor in the Evangelical community, though it remains a fixture in many liturgical churches. Christmas and Easter are certainly recognized but the preceding weeks of Advent and Lent have fallen from the consciousness of churchgoers and worship leaders. When was the last time your church celebrated Pentecost? The loss of the calendar for our worship ultimately serves to weaken our worship as secular concerns direct our schedule.
The idea behind the calendar of church life comes from God in creation. In six days he marked each new aspect of creation and then rested on the seventh, showing us the pattern for different times of life each having their own purposes. In the Old Testament we find that the Jewish year revolved around three feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).
“Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.- Exodus 23:14
Christians soon added Easter and the Christmas celebration to the calendar, along with the seasons of piety (Lent and Advent) that preceded them. More milestones were added during the passing of the year creating what are known as ‘seasons’ within the liturgy. Each season serves as the spiritual foundation of our remembrance of the major events in God’s story. In recognizing the period of the calendar in which we live and share life together we gain a greater sense of our place alongside all of the saints who have preceded us in history. We develop a spiritual awareness of all of the things we hold in common.
Birth of the Savior ~ Christmas
Rebirth and Second Coming of the Savior ~ Advent
Death of the Savior ~ Lent & Holy Week
Resurrection of the Savior ~ Easter
Coming of the Holy Spirit ~ Pentecost
When we recognize the uniquely spiritual nature of our calendar, we serve to draw distinctions between ourselves and the time keeping of the world. It reminds us that God remains in charge of time and that everything occurs according to His schedule. Our recognition of the seasons of worship that we pass through helps us to see and recognize the false idols of the world that attempt to infiltrate our lives for their own selfish purpose. No longer will we be susceptible to the Christmas decorations that begin to appear at the mall before All Saints Day in an attempt to purge our wallets of treasure. We will trust in God to bring the seasons as He deems appropriate.
Since the Reformation, there have been repeated movements to rid the Protestant church of anything that appears to Roman in its structure, and the liturgy and calendar have been victims of these purges. Worship leaders and pastors especially should consider carefully what has risen to replace them in leading of God’s people. We have no reason to fear the calendar and every reason to restore it to its proper place within God’s Church.
Grace and peace to you.