Take This Bread

I recently finished Take This Bread by Sara Miles. (Thanks Natalie for the recommendation!) I highly recommend this book. It's one of the best books I've read in quite sometime.

The book is the spiritual memoir of Sara Miles, but the theological attraction of the book is that Take This Bread is an extended meditation on Eucharistic theology and its connection to radical hospitality and social justice. More, Take This Bread is the best apology for open communion I've ever read.

Miles, an unbeliever raised by atheist parents, has her conversion by participating in open communion at St. Gregory's, the church that will eventually become her home and the eventually launching pad for Miles's efforts to feed the hungry of her city. Her conversion during open communion as she was visiting St. Gregory's with almost no experience or exposure to Christianity:
We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. "Jesus invites everyone to his table," the woman announced, and we started moving up in a stately dance to the table in the rotunda. It had some dishes on it, and a pottery goblet.

And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying "the body of Christ," and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying "the blood of Christ," and something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.
Reading Miles's story I wonder: Why are we interfering with the Spirit to work in this fashion by limiting access to the Lord's Supper?

Some excerpts from the book regarding St. Gregory's theology of open communion and its connection to the practices of hospitality and justice:
[Rick and Donald, the founders of St. Gregory's] wanted to make sure every word spoken during services would communicate the essence of St. Gregory's approach to hospitality.

In fact, they had just commissioned an expensive new altar that physicalized their philosophy of open communion. It stood alone, in the center of the rotunda: Hand-built of gorgeous, polished hardwood in the style of an early Palestinian altar, it was inscribed in gilt letters with two quotations. The first, in Greek, from the Gospel of Luke, recorded an insult to Jesus: "This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them." On the other side of the altar were the words of the seventh-century mystic Isaac of Nineveh: "Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So do not distinguish between worthy and unworthy. All must be equal for you to love and serve."
This is what Rick and Donald had insisted on with building worship around open communion. It wasn't just about offering bread and wine to all comers but extending the welcome through what they called "radical hospitality," making the entire liturgy transparent and accessible to strangers every step of the way. It was why Rick badgered the deacons constantly about pitching every announcement and speech to the newcomers and the strangers--eschewing jargon and insider references. And it echoed something I'd heard from Bishop Swing when I talked with him about the food pantry.

"Whenever the church powers get around to feeding," Swing said, "it's usually conditional--you have to be baptized, you have to belong to our club--and it stops being Jesus's meal. Churchly legitimacy gets its hand in rather than crazy hospitality, the open extravagance of the Last Supper. And you get further and further from the power and genius of that meal."

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8 thoughts on “Take This Bread”

  1. I love that book. To me, Miles' book is about what Christianity should be -- welcoming to all as you are and about doing, not just sitting around believing. She's been a great inspiration to me even if I feel like an underachiever compared to her. It's also what made me a firm believer in open communion. Who are we to stand in the way of what God wants to do in somebody's life?

  2. "For as often as you eat this break and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."

    It seems that the Apostle Paul understood the table to be an announcement of the good news.  With that in mind, we must conclude that the table is not merely for the church, but for the whole world.  What truer confession of faith could there be than partaking of the meal?  Awesome stuff.

  3. Lovely - I too received Christ / new birth at the first celebration of breaking bread that I somehow happened to find myself in. Probably third time in a church building after two family weddings as a kid. Not sure this properly counts as open communion, as many of the celebrants i later learned would have probably preferred that as an unbeleiver i had abstained, but i didn`t know the rules, and the words of invitation seemed to connect to this Jesus they had sang and spoken about. Now i will break bread with any who want to know and follow Jesus...

  4. Funny how Ike O'Nineveh seems to *accept* the insult as truth--which ain't necessarily so. IIRC the original line is from a passage contrasting Josh O'Nazareth with Jack the Dunker, & the lesson I take from it is that society will condemn you no matter what.

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