Musing About the book, Subversive Meals

Subversive Meals: An Analysis of the Lord’s Supper under Roman Domination during the First Century
R. Alan Streett

Of the ninety plus books I have on my Kingdom or Empire list this one was the biggest surprise for me. Each of these 90 books I’ve read so far has opened doors to current biblical interpretation from a different perspective. When I saw that Subversive Meals was going to look at the topic from the standpoint of Christian worship, I didn’t think it would have much effect on my understanding of worship.

The reason for my thinking this was that, after being out of seminary for about twenty years, I went back to do further studies on just that matter, worship. My thesis topic was “The Use of the Lectionary as a Parish Focus”. In order to put the lectionary in its proper setting, I took courses in Bible and in worship. It was a significant time to be studying worship.

When I had taken courses during seminary for my first degree 20 years earlier, my professor teaching those courses noted that no person teaching seminary at that time had done their doctoral work in Worship. They had studied other different disciplines and moved into teaching worship when their seminary needed someone to offer that subject.

By the time I returned to studying worship two decades later in the 1980s, the study of worship had gone through several stages. First, the 1960s was a time of ecumenical fervor among Protestants. The effect of this in the denominations in worship was for each to look back in their own history to discover their own distinctive form of worship to be sure that was not lost in the ecumenical discussions.

Second, in the Roman church there had been the Second Vatican Council, which produced major changes in Roman Catholic worship. Worship was to be not in Latin but the language of the people. The priest no longer faced the altar but the people in leading worship. This helped to emphasize the definition of the Church which came out of the Council: the church as the People of God. Catholic scholars were encouraged to study the Scriptures and they subsequently created a three year cycle Sunday Lectionary.

So by the time I returned to seminary in the 1980s, not only had nearly a dozen seminaries in Berkeley, California formed the Graduate Theological Seminary as an ecumenical institution: three Catholic seminaries, Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan; and various Protestant seminaries, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Unitarian, and my own, Pacific School of Religion, which was Methodist, UCC, And Disciple.

This meant that I was able to take courses in Bible and worship from any of those seminaries, These courses were to aid me in my topic of study: the Lectionary. In the intervening years, the lectionary developed by the Catholics had been adopted by those same Protestant denominations listed above.

I took one course on worship from the Jesuit seminary (they called the course ‘liturgy’). I took another from the Lutheran seminary. This broadening of the ecumenical framework, I discovered, now included Catholics along with the previous Protestant ecumenical partners. More specifically, where earlier the Protestants had gone back into their own histories to find the roots of their worship, I found that with the inclusion of the Catholics, the search in history of worship now took scholars even farther back in time.

Where earlier no Protestant teacher of worship had their doctorate in worship, now there were so many in the field that they had formed a scholarly society, the North American Academy of Liturgy. Papers were being published in the academy’s magazine, Worship, on such issues as “what does the Didache or the Shepherd of Hermas, or Paul, or the Gospels, tell us about early Christian worship.”

I came away from my studies during that time thinking: “ After you’ve gone back to the earliest sources in worship, what more can we know?”

That is why Alan Streett’s book on Subversive Meals hit me like a sledgehammer. I knew that most of the 90 books I had collected in my list could teach me things I didn’t already know about the Roman Empire and its effect on the early Christian church. But I didn’t think Streett’s book was likely to make many changes in the way I look at Christian worship. I knew about worship. I had already studied that. Oh, foolish me!

But I will get into the specifics of the book, dear friend, in my next musing. I promise not to take too long before I post it.

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