My experience, within mostly evangelical Protestant circles, with practices such as Sabbath, fasting and the liturgical year has been limited mostly to academic study and/or suspicious caution. That’s why I was glad to see the Ancient Practices series released, which covers many of these practices. As followers of Jesus, we miss out immensely when we ignore the wisdom of those who have pursued Christ wholeheartedly before us.

As part of the Ancient Practices series, Nora Gallagher shares about the Eucharist (communion, the Lord’s Supper) in her book, The Sacred Meal. While The Sacred Meal is not a “professional” how-to manual or doctrinal treatise, it is deeply theological.

My impression, while reading, was one of the Kingdom of God that breaks into our everyday lives and how participating in the Eucharist connects us to this Kingdom in our everyday lives: “We are all practicing together to become more and more the makers of the kingdom that is both under our feet and right around the corner.”

We live in the midst of empires (some obvious, some not as much) competing for our allegiance and our affections. Gallagher reminds us how, “The regular practice of Communion is meant to help move us from being the citizens of the empire to the citizens of heaven.”  This heavenly citizenship causes us not to long for a better escape route from this world but, rather, to live in an alternative way here & now to the empires of corruption and greed — with compassion, justice and courage.

Rather than treat the Eucharist as religious duty, Gallagher follows people such as Dallas Willard in discussing spiritual disciplines:

What is life-giving is often hidden.  We live in a world where we mistake riches for sustenance, a new purse for food, power over others for agency or our own empowerment. It is often harder to do good than it is to do evil.  We need all the help we can get.  Think of a spiritual practice as Pilates for the spirit.

Similar to Rob Bell’s idea that we are a Eucharist, Gallagher moves us from a strictly individualized notion of faith into the community of followers of Christ: “Think of those who gather at Communion as the body of Jesus. We are the body given for each other. This is my body, he said. Look around you.

Gallagher describes the practice of engaging the Eucharist in three stages: waiting, receiving and afterward.  In each stage we discover more of the Kingdom of God in & around us.  As she writes:

The Communion wafer is not a wand; it is instead a compass. It points outward, toward the vast ocean outside my small self, that my small self is also made of and knows. It points to what has been and what can be but also opens your eyes to what is right now.

Gallagher writes with honesty and whimsy (clearly, she is a gifted crafter of words), often conveying complicated theological truth through deceptively simple stories.  I recommend The Sacred Meal for those interested in connecting the vital spiritual practice of the Eucharist with everyday life in the Kingdom of God.