Book: Words Around the Table

Gail Ramshaw. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991.122 pages; $8.95 (paper).

An appropriate subtitle to the book Words Around the Table is "Reflections on the Words and Deeds of the Sunday Eucharist." In the book, Gail Ramshaw has sought to expand the readers' thinking concerning the mystery of the supper of our Lord.

However, her comments are not restricted to the Eucharist, as her chapter headings reveal. In addition to the titles "Body and Blood of Christ," "Communion of Saints," the "Sign of Peace," and "Mercy," Ramshaw includes chapters on "Sunday," "Glory," "Word," "Gospel," and "Prayer."

By her own admission, Ramshaw is "seeking images that carry the praise" that is due God in worship. In language rich with metaphor and poetry, she draws from the writings of such religious thinkers as Justin, Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and Julian of Norwich as well as from contemporary life stories as current as the chiseling of the Berlin Wall. In one example of the weekly offering, Ramshaw speaks of the bread and drink which is at once the offer of Christ's sacrificial body and blood and the "gifts of God for the people of God" taken from the fruits of human labor. Additionally, offerings of time and money and energy for the good of others become external signs of our internal state of praise and thanksgiving. As Ramshaw writes, "The golden bells on the robe of Aaron [in his priestly function of offering sacrifice and thank offerings] are ringing in our ears" as bread and drink are placed on the table, and our voices sing Holy, Holy, and the offerings are laid at the altar of service.

Ramshaw's constant engagement with Scripture (all noted in marginal references) and her scholarly exploration through centuries of theology challenge both theologian and layperson to more fully honor God in worship. Her engaging style of writing makes this book extremely readable. Though the book is slanted toward Ramshaw's own Lutheran practices, including mention of saints and icons, the reader can benefit from her Reformed yet apostolic tradition, especially her insightful treatment of the transformation of the elements of common bread and wine to become God's nourishment of grace through the body and blood of his Son.

Ramshaw is aware of contemporary influences on worship, such as liturgical renewal movements, pentecostal-ism, and feminist checks on the language and imagery in worship, and she treats them fairly while never veering from the worthy and time-honored tradition of liturgical form and language that has recited the praise and glory of God from generation to generation. In this book, lyrical in style and simple in illustration, Ramshaw has created a devotional text as well as a biblical, theological treatment of Christian worship.

Ruth Hofman is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church.