Book Reviews

Book Review: “Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer” by Rowan Williams

On a Facebook recommendation, I pre-ordered, and received quickly from Amazon.ca, the latest publication by Rowan Williams, entitled,  Being Christian:  41YEga+-9rL._SL500_AA300_Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014).  It is a surprisingly small book, at under ninety pages.  And it is a quick read; it arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I had it completed before going to sleep (with several other needful things done in between).

I recommend this book for those looking for a basic refresher on some of these fundamental aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.  As the subtitle suggests, he writes (about twenty pages on each) about the meaning and implications of the sacrament of Baptism, how we read (or hear) the Bible, what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and then gives a brief summary of three views on the Lord’s Prayer (from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian, all classic Christian writers from early [pre-AD 600] Christianity).

Williams is clear, concise, and accessible in his writing style.  He writes with a modest Anglican bias, which the reader would only expect coming from the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury!  But even with that ‘filter’, Williams could be read quite satisfactorily by an inquirer, or by a believer from any branch of the church.

There were six especially helpful learning points that I noted for myself in the book:

  • In the Eastern Christian tradition, some icons for the baptism of Jesus depict Jesus up to his neck in water, with river gods, representing chaos being overcome, beneath the water.  The old ways are always trying to claim us back.
  • The Bible is, in a way, our own story, so history matters when reading Scripture.
  • In the Eucharist, Jesus is telling us he wants our company.
  • Prayer is about changing your attitude.
  • Prayer is a promise to God.
  • This one deserves to be quoted:  “[Prayer] is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit.  Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me'” (p. 80).

Reflection and discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter for use by individuals or groups.  This is a short and helpful read, and I recommend it.

Biblical Messages

The Means of Grace

There’s lots about the life of the church that we do but would be hard pressed to explain.  One of those things is the Lord’s Supper.  In this message, I CB064070seek to help us understand a little bit more about what it means to share together in Communion.  The Eucharist is, for us, the means of grace.

Based on 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, you can listen to the message by clicking here.

Book Reviews

Book Review: “The Sacred Meal” by Nora Gallagher

It has been a long time – too long a time, really – since I posted a book review.  But I completed a little book this evening, which had been recommended to me by a friend, so I will give it a little plug.

As the title suggests, The Sacred Meal is about the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, Holy Communion.  (It is part of “The Ancient Practices Series” of books edited by Phyllis Tickle, and published by Thomas Nelson.)  The author is a writer and novelist who is also a lay altar server in her local Episcopal Church in California; she writes from those perspectives, and her writing suggests that she might find herself a bit left-of-centre in the Episcopal theological spectrum.

If we look at the Lord’s Supper as having two primary players – Jesus and us – Gallagher writes as an incarnationalist and a communalist, if I may employ those two terms as a matter of my own interpretation of the book.  She strings together a variety of stories, mostly from her own experience, which highlight the importance of the Eucharist as a gathering of people from all walks of life and all manner of baggage attached.  She also writes with a very human understanding of Jesus.

While I would assess that her good intentions also reveal a somewhat flawed hermeneutic – from my rather more conservative, Reformed perspective – Gallagher also gives us some very helpful thoughts to consider in our celebration of Communion, irrespective of the tradition in which we celebrate it.  For example, as part of her recounting of one serving experience, she says, “Holy Communion was a web, a web of people who were being stitched together.  And tomorrow, we would need to be stitched together again.  Over and over.  One person to the next” (p. 6).

And the Lord is part of that stitching.  She writes, “Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone who came after him to remember what they had together.  What they made together.  What it meant to be together.  How the things he wanted them to do could not be done alone.  How the things he did could not have been done without them” (p. 24, emphasis hers).  Too often, many in the church see a communion-less Communion:  It’s “Jesus ‘n’ me,” instead of “Jesus and us.”  We are all in this together at the Lord’s Table.  Our individualistic approach causes us to lose perspective on the communal nature of our celebration.

Gallagher emphasizes the importance of frequent celebration when she writes, “The regular practice of Communion is meant to help us move from being the citizens of an empire to the citizens of heaven” (p. 34).

Many of her stories are heartwarming; some are heart-wrenching; all make the reader think about what the sacred meal can be for participants.  While I don’t agree with everything in this book, I think it is well worth the 137-page read.

Nora Gallagher, The Sacred Meal.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2009.  ISBN 978-0-8499-0092-1.