About three and a half years ago, I started looking for suggestions on books dealing with Holy Communion. At the time, Tom Wright’s The Meal Jesus Gave Us, was the only one I followed through on. I’ve been collecting and starting to read through other books since then. One of the first one’s I’ve finished is A Holy Meal: The Lord’s Supper in the Life of the Church, by Gordon T. Smith.
The best part of this book may be found in the opening paragraph of chapter 1.
We cannot live without eating. Even more remarkable, eating is a spiritual practice. We are reminded by the testimony of Scripture and the spiritual heritage of the church that eating and drinking are not merely responses to physical hunger. (9)
The practices we develop at the Lord’s Supper, are practices that should inform the way we gather around every table. Smith then takes a look at the Biblical story to show the ways in which eating together shapes the life of God’s people and particularly the ministry of Jesus.
The next chapter deals with the meanings of signs, symbols, and sacraments. This serves as a helpful guide to understanding the Lord’s Supper.
When he moves into the actual study of the Lord’s Supper, Smith’s approach is not to simply look at how various traditions interpret the meal. Instead he chooses seven words that are often associated with the Lord’s Supper. These words are: remembrance, communion, forgiveness, covenant, nourishment, anticipation, and eucharist. Using these terms, Smith then examines how various traditions make use of these terms in their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Smith’s own views are on clear display without taking over the content of the book. He grew up in a remembrance only tradition, and has clearly rejected this approach.(35ff). He also seems to be advocating for the an open table approach to communion. While he is open to open communion, lay presidency(having someone other than a minister of priest preside), receives a less enthusiastic endorsement.(113).
A Holy Meal for Your Parish
A Holy Meal doesn’t come with a study guide, but it could easily be used as an 8 to 10 week adult study. You could also add a celebration of the Lord’s Supper to each of the classes.
A Holy Meal comes from Baker Academic Press, but don’t let that dissuade you. The book is written at the level of an introductory college or university. This books doesn’t address all the complexities of the Lord’s Supper. However, it will likely broaden your parish or congregation’s understanding of this meal. If nothing else, it will give you better insight into the practices of other members of our Christian family.
I would put this book down as a useful, but not essential addition to your church library.