My assignment, to review the chapters 3 through 5 of "The Sacred Meal' was an interesting challenge since I was prepared for neither the style nor the language the author uses. Having said that I hope you will read her book to the end, if you decide to take your own place at the table.
My background is of some significance in understanding the approach taken in reviewing and discussing these chapters. I came to Christianity at a relatively early age, my christening notwithstanding. By the age of ten I had decided Christianity was a solid foundation to build on (and more especially Anglican Christianity). Yet it was not until my early thirties that I first joined the table at the altar for communion.
It was then that I realized that "Rhuach HaKodesh" (the Holy Spirit, in Hebrew)was present at the table, whether or not we recognized the fact, occasionally or always.
It is from here that I entered "The Sacred Meal".
In taking us to the "meal" Ms Gallagher takes us through her three parts: waiting, receiving, and afterwards. She then describes what these three parts represent to her, with ample examples, all the while encouraging us to supply our own entrée, and examples.
In moving forward to take communion we are entering into a very old "practice", renewed by our participation. As we approach communion we can review the problems and concerns, and even the sins, that we wish to bring before God, at this table, or we can simply accept what is brought to us as we take our place at the rail or station.
To exhibit the flexibility of the "practice" she takes us through the story of Sodom and Gomorah ( and if she were to reedit the book in the past two years she might even point out that we had just lived through a reenactment of the biblical story). Fortunately Abraham was able to argue God to accept the individual as just even if the society left much to be concerned over. It is the system that drives much of the problem, but we can enter the kingdom of Heaven, by following Christ's drive for justice for all, not just for the wealthy and powerful.
By following the "practice of communion" we add one little bit more weight on the scale and tip the beam toward Christ's justice.
Receiving as a part of the "practice" is acceptance of the grace of God and many of us miss this concept, because we didn't "work hard enough for it"! We overlook the fact we may well be in a "thin spot" and in the presence of the Holy Spirit (Rhuach HaKodesh)as we await the administrant and as we accept the meal (the bread and the wine).
Her thesis is that we should "inhabit the present" and accept the grace of God as we accept the bread and cup, without reservation and without reluctance. We need not be afraid, as one of her acquaintances was. If we open our hands, as Anna asks us by example, to do, we will receive the grace as given. Some see that as supplication and others as divine acceptance. We need to recognize which of these possibilities is ours when we observe the practice.
It is one of the great beauties of Holy Communions, that we are being asked to step forward and accept what the grace of God gives us. We are not in control. We are to accept the love of God!
Sometimes that is very frightening.
Nora Gallagher gives us a brief primer in modern neurological physiology to illustrate that we are constructed to accept the facts and truths of the communion experience, even if we can't prove them "scientifically"!
And then there is the postlude - Afterward.
Is this Jesus' effort to give us a preview of the kingdom of heaven or what it could be like? (the author asks never once suggesting it isn't real here and now!)
Gallagher goes on to point out that Christianity isn't the only religious tradition that has a religious meal. Indeed she is at pains to emphasize that all three of the Abrahamic traditions are intertwined by this concept. The practice of traditions like the "Sacred Meal" encourages us to recall the commonality of many of the religious traditions, not only the three referred to but many other examples, including Hinduism and Buddhism.
In the end communion may result in events of a different order, and may lead to a full experience of the infinite (an openness). These events add dimension to our understanding as some of the events of Christ's life led him to greater openness and understanding and hence to a rich transcendence.
Finally meditation or contemplation can prepare us and move us to a greater appreciation of the grace of the practice of Holy Communion and open us or awaken the wisdom in our hearts.
The author has done us a great service to lay out this scaffolding for us to build on!