The Sacred Meal, by Nora Gallagher (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), pp. 149, paper $12.99.
The Sacred Meal is part of the eight volume “Ancient Practices” series edited by Phyllis Tickle which is attempting to guide the church forward by examining seven practices of the ancient church. The volumes are a bit uneven, but each looks to disciplines that have shaped the Catholic Church and some liturgical Protestant churches (Gallagher preaches in an Episcopal church). Some of the authors interact with Scripture, but the teachings found in these books are drawn not from the Bible but rather from tradition, experience and opinion.
The Sacred Meal is among the worst in the “Ancient Practices” series. If you turn to this book to get a better understanding of the Lord’s Supper, you will be gravely disappointed. Gallagher ignores Scripture rather than exegeting it. The reader will learn far more about Gallagher, her opinions, experiences and struggles than about the sacred meal. I actually believe she wrote more about a soup kitchen she once was involved with than about the Eucharist (pp. 89, 112-117). She dismisses what happens to the elements as inconsequential (p. 106) while consistently calling them “the blood of Christ,” “the body of Christ” and “the cup of salvation” (pp. 6, 76, 87). Gallagher has little concept of the true purpose of communion but calls herself a communion “glutton” (p. xx) and views the celebration as the means toward some sort of experience (pp. 51-62). To this author it is the emotional experience that is important and should be sought rather than worship and thanksgiving toward Christ who secured our salvation at the cross—something never mentioned in the book. Along the way Gallagher adopts every theologically liberal idea she can find, including:
• Rejection of the justice of God, or what she calls the “scary-God version” (pp. 32-33, 35).
• Acceptance of all religions as legitimate (pp. 42, 53-55, 97-99).
• Finding heaven at the communion (p. 48).
• Promotion of the Jesus Seminar, although not by name (p. 110).
• Promulgation that Jesus did not come to teach a belief (p. 118), but how to live, which is straight out of the early liberals’ playbook.
• Redistribution of wealth.
• Belief in evolution (hopefully, but not clearly, theistic) (p. 134).
• Belief in pantheism (p. 136-137).
Concerning participation in communion, Gallagher believes there should be no rules. Anyone who wants to take communion should. As she states, “If you are hungry for communion, take it” (p. 96), despite the clear instruction in 1 Corinthians 11 to the contrary.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whole book is the view of Jesus that is presented. Gallagher speaks of Jesus being “said to have turned water into wine.” Did Jesus really turn water into wine or was it a mere story? The author does not think it was a “magic trick” but an act of restoration: “The wine was in the water. Jesus in his profound and steadfast compassion, found that wine and released it so everyone could drink and be revitalized” (p. 66). Jesus then promises that each of us can do the same for ourselves and one another (p. 66) Gallagher also speaks of Jesus being changed and being different from us only in “degrees of divinity.” She writes:
But he, too, was “healed.” He was opened. He was changed. He was no longer so sure of what his job was, what he was meant to do. It may be that this is what kept happening to him, over and over again. He met a blind man and was changed by the encounter; he met a woman at a well and Mary Magdalene and a tax collector. The difference between Jesus and us may not merely be one of degrees of divinity, but also his openness to others and their capacity to bend and awaken his heart.
The Sacred Meal has virtually no insights into the Lord’s Supper, but offers numerous troubling and heretical concepts. Avoid!!