Hymns and Communion

I like a simple chorus now and again — the ones with just a few short lines, no difficult words or twisty grammar — they allow a meditative, beyond-verbal response that hymns don’t.

But hymns — old and new — can be rich with solid and refreshing and nourishing and encouraging and reminding and liberating doctrine.

We sang one of my favorites yesterday, John “Amazing Grace” Newton’s Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder. For one thing, I love the poetic structure, with the first line inviting us to love and sing and wonder, and three following verses each focusing on one of those responses. (CyberHymnal has two additional verses that don’t fit this poetic structure. I wonder if they were added on later.) I like the connecting refrain, emphasizing again and again that “He has washed us with his blood.” It also has a lovely melody.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s Name!
He has hushed the law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.
He has washed us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.

Let us love the Lord Who bought us,
Pitied us when enemies,
Called us by His grace, and taught us,
Gave us ears and gave us eyes:
He has washed us with His blood,
He presents our souls to God.

Let us sing, though fierce temptation
Threaten hard to bear us down!
For the Lord, our strong Salvation,
Holds in view the conqueror’s crown:
He Who washed us with His blood
Soon will bring us home to God.

Let us wonder; grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles and asks no more:
He Who washed us with His blood
Has secured our way to God.

Writing about this hymn has reminded me of my favorite line from another good one, “How Firm a Foundation”:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I don’t care for the traditional melody of this one, but when I was in Vermont one weekend in March (to perform for a church coffeehouse (hmmm, I haven’t put up pictures from this March, so the link is to last year’s)), Rodger Hamilton led the congregation in a new 9/8 repeat-the-last-line melody that’s really wonderful.

I met Rodger and Marisa (and their awesome sons, Daniel (see his cool art) and Robert) because they wrote a song called “Remember Me” that I heard in high school and continue to love. A few years ago I got in touch with them to ask about performing that song, and they invited me to come play for their coffeehouse. Here’s the song:

This bread is my body, I break it for you,
So take it, and make it a part of you.
This cup’s the new covenant, sealed in my blood,
Revealed by the new lives
Whose sins are swept away before its flood.

Remember me,
As often as you break the bread,
And drink the wine, until I come again;
Remember me.

If any be hungry, I’ll be his true bread;
If he will believe, he’ll be really fed.
If any be thirsty, his true drink I’ll be;
A new life to you I
Will give if you will only come to me.

Remember me,
As often as you break the bread,
And drink the wine, until I come again;
Remember me.

Remember me,
I will not taste again this vine, until the time…
I drink it new again with you,
So keep this feast and when you do:
Remember me.

Just reading the lyrics it’s a great song. But you should hear the melody and harmony and the guitar…

The husband and I helped serve Communion yesterday. It felt a little awkward for it to be lowly, unworthy, messy us standing up there holding a plate of bread and the thing with all the little cups of grape juice (in the center) and wine (the outer ring), and to watch people approach us, and take from our hands these precious earthy elements that are somehow a means of grace, of spiritual nourishment.

There’s always been something awkward to me about Communion. I fear I’ll accidentally rip out a huge piece, or drop the whole bread, or spill the juice. I don’t know where to direct my eyes or what to say when the minister tells me, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” I had to suppress the giggles when the pastor yesterday held up the bread, saying “and he broke the bread,” and pulled apart the two pieces, perfectly sliced down the middle — hardly broken! So neat and tidy. For some reason that just cracked me up.

O Lord, thank you that you love me despite my giggles, awkwardness, messiness, and wallowing in fears and misery. Thank you for meeting me in church, ministering to me with songs sung to piano and guitar in a rented downtown auditorium and tiny bits of food and drink cherished on silver platters. Thank you for all the things that are true and promised and faithful regardless of how much or little I grasp them at any given moment.

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