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Friday, April 6, 2012

"That We May Perfectly Love Thee" (Robert Benson)

TITLE: That We May Perfectly Love Thee
AUTHOR: Robert Benson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2011.

What a fitting book for Holy Week! Maundy Thursday typically marks the beginning of the Holy Triduum, the three days leading up to Easter Sunday. On the night before Jesus was betrayed, the Lord Jesus broke bread and drank wine with the disciples at the Upper Room. Benson uses the words from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to title this book on Holy Communion.

Many different names have been used to describe this event. Some call it the Eucharist, others call it the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion. Benson helps us understand that back in the early century, this is actually the 'Holy potluck.' Seven chapters frame the whole book. Beginning with a prelude to the Holy Meal in the first three chapters, Benson leads readers through an actual ritual in an Anglican Church in Nashville. It is about practicing a sabbatical mood of unhurried and intentional preparation to enter into the feast. It is about the reverent and quiet mood of the congregation that contrasts a busyness in the outside world with a serenity inside the sanctuary. It is about contrasting the ways of the world of consumerism, with the ways of Christ, to set apart all things that we may love God. In other words, the book is not just about Holy Communion. It is about preparing our hearts for Holy Communion, as the subtitle says. The motive reverberates throughout the book: "That we may perfectly love thee." From prayers of the priests to the prayers of the people; from the breaking of the bread and wine to the distribution of the elements; from the call to observe the silence, to a call to celebrate Christ, this book is spot on when it comes to understanding the Holy Communion for what it means to prepare our hearts. It is not just a meal. It is a celebration of a relationship. It is showing gratitude for God forgiving us. It is a time to confess our sins and recognize our sinfulness. It is both personal and corporate; remembrance and hope; fellowshiping and worshiping. The book also ends with a helpful small group guide to facilitate greater discussion among believers.

As I read the book, I feel myself invited into the actual ritual of Holy Communion, and to be reminded of the words that I have uttered each Communion time. Along the way, Benson shows the human side of us through the side activities happening during the Holy Feast. A friend tapping on the shoulder, or people exchanging friendly smiles, or some recollections of past activities in the church. It is a reminder that many things are happening inside us even during the Holy Communion. Perhaps, the ritual itself is not a boring and monotonous set of activities after all. The intentional and repetitive manner of pointing our attention to Christ is a way of settling our unsettled minds and hearts. We need order in an otherwise disorderly world. We need to learn to rest. We need to observe moments of silence. Tradition is necessary in a world of untraditional thinking. Thankfully, Benson continues this tradition with a very thoughtful book. It reminds me that there are things we do in church that we may not understand when we are younger. Over time, we will appreciate it greatly.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Upper Room Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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