A few weeks ago I sent out a request, via Twitter and Facebook for books on the Eucharist. In particular, I was hoping to find ones that dealt with the subject of the Eucharist in the terms of a meal. Among the suggestions I received was Tom Wright’s The Meal Jesus Gave us: Understanding Holy Communion. The book was suggested to me by my friend and colleague Geoff Woodcroft, who was also kind enough to lend me his copy to read.
This is an excellent little book. It only runs to just over 80 pages, but in it Wright is able to encapsulate much of the history and practice of Holy Communion, or as he repeatedly refers to it, “The Jesus Meal.” Rather, than starting with the Biblical context, Wright begins by engaging the reader on the whole idea of significant meals, with an imaginative description of a birthday party, perhaps our most common time for celebratory time.
From there he moves into the Eucharist’s roots in the Passover, and how being part of that story was understood by the first followers of Jesus. As he continues in his discussion of the practice, right up to the current day, he is able to give the reader insight into the ways in which diverse groups of Christians have developed their own ways of celebrating this meal and does so with charity in most places.
The one exception, though even then, not overly strong, is on the idea of Open Communion and lay presiding at Communion. I’m not very well read on the subject of laity presiding at Communion, but if you want to know more about Open Communion, I recommend Come to the Table, by Jamie Howison of St. Benedict’s Table.
The main reason for this is Wright’s desire that the Jesus Meal be one that draws all Christians closer together rather than giving us reasons to become even more fragmented than we already are.
This is the kind of book that churches should be getting newcomers to their communities to read. Better yet, particularly if you are from a tradition similar to the one I’m in (Anglican), it would be a great book to give to those who are being baptized At baptism we welcome the baptized into the family and a book about the family meal of Holy Communion, make a terrific, little, welcoming gift.