Singing the Lord's Table

Throughout church history, one thing that Christians have continually rediscovered is how the songs we sing help us to learn and understand the faith. I've been thinking about this lately in terms of the Lord's Supper. You see, there aren't really all that many contemporary worship hits about the sacrament, and I think in most places among evangelicals and Pentecostals, in this country at least, we seem to have forgotten most of our old Communion hymns. And at the same time, the Lord's Supper seems to have been largely eclipsed in our practice, our thought, and our devotion. Could the demise of the Communion hymn be linked to our confusion about and de-emphasis of the Supper?

But, the thing is this: it's not all that easy to recover the hymns we've lost. Finding a suitable tune to sing them to which will work in a congregation today isn't always easy if you don't know about how hymn tunes and metres work. So, with that in mind, here's a bit of help: some communion hymns from the British Pentecostal hymnbooks (either from Redemption Hymnal or Hymns at the Holy Table) with a tune that's either still generally familiar enough or simple enough to learn, and all playable on the guitar, so they'll work with a worship group without a piano. The tunes aren't married to the texts (that's rather a new-fangled concept when it comes to hymns anyway), so if you don't like the tune, I've got a few alternative suggestions. The recordings aren't anything great, but they should at least give you an idea of what it should sound like and help you learn the songs.

Of course, this might not be of any interest to anyone, but I was recording the songs for another purpose entirely, so thought it would be worth posting just in case anyone would find it useful. (Although, if any one does find it at all useful, let me know somehow! And if there's a sudden revival of singing communion songs somewhere, that's something I'd really like to know about.)

Click on the hymn title for the audio.

There's also a PDF of the lyrics and guitar chords for each song. The hymn numbers listed for Hymns at the Holy Table (HHT), the Redemption Hymnal (RH), and the New Redemption Hymnal (NRH) are for the words, not the tunes, although all the tunes, except St Thomas, can be found in those hymnbooks too. I've tried to choose singable keys, so they might not always match the key printed in the hymnbook, but that can easily be remedied with a capo.

1. Draw Nigh And Take the Body of the Lord   [Words and Chords]
     (HHT 47)
     Tune: Eventide (i.e. Abide With Me)

This text is from a 7th Century communion hymn from Bangor in what is now Northern Ireland (i.e. my home country). I've divided the two verses given in HHT into 3 which changes the metre to allow for a well-known tune.

2. I Hear the Words of Love   [Words and Chords]
    (RH 707; NRH 901)
    Tune: St Michael

This is a great song of the assurance of salvation we see at the Table. Horatius Bonar has left us some amazing Communion hymns (and not only Communion hymns). Yet despite writing over 600 hymns and being well-known around the world in his own life-time for his compositions, for most of his life he wouldn't let them be sung in his own church services, believing only in singing Psalms in public worship.

3. Of the Glorious Body Telling   [Words and Chords]
    (HHT 44)
    Tune: St Thomas

Thomas Aquinas wrote this hymn in the 13th Century. It speaks of Christ's incarnation, life and atonement, the Last Supper, the meaning of the Lord's Supper, and ends with an ascription of glory to the Trinity. I've put it to a probably unfamiliar tune that's long been traditionally associated with the words, but which also sounds contemporary enough to use in modern worship. (At least one contemporary worship leader has used this tune for a modern worship song.)

4. Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands   [Words and Chords]
    (HHT 54; NRH 905)
    Tune: Rockingham (i.e. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)

You may only know of Charles Spurgeon as a preacher, but here he is a hymnwriter, and one with a high view of the Lord's Supper too.

5. Bread of Heaven on Thee We Feed    [Words and Chords]
    (HHT: 49)
    Tune: Petra (i.e. Rock of Ages)

The first two verses were written by Josiah Conder, with a third added by Ian Macpherson.

6. Here O My Lord I See Thee Face to Face   [Words and Chords]
    (HHT 22; RH 697; NRH 891)
    Tune: St Agnes

Possibly one of the more familiar Communion hymns. This one is also by Horatius Bonar. Wayne Grudem calls this 'one of the greatest hymns ever written regarding this doctrine ... the sweet beauty of spirit that Horatius Bonar exemplified in this hymn is matched by very few hymns in the history of the church.' It also contains one of my favourite verses of any hymn:
Mine is the sin, but Thine the righteousness
Mine is the guilt but Thine the cleansing blood;
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace,
Thy blood, Thy righteousness, O Lord my God.

7. Thee We Adore O Hidden Saviour Thee   [Words and Chords]
    (HHT 29)
    Tune: Toulon (i.e. I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art)

Another entry by Thomas Aquinas. Omri Bowen had set this to Eventide in Hymns at the Holy Table, but I've stolen Eventide for Draw Nigh and Take, so I think this works well to Toulon. (Plus, for some theological amusement, it's fun to set words by Aquinas to a tune usually used for words by Calvin.)

8. I Hunger and I Thirst   [Words and Chords]
    (HHT 12; NRH 101)
    Tune: Quam Dilecta
All I know about this one is that it's by John Samuel Bewley Monsell. I didn't know the tune either, but it seems like early British Pentecostals loved it - it crops up several times in Molwch Dduw, our old Welsh hymnbook too.

9. Jesus Invites His Saints   [Words and Chords]
    (HHT 3 ; NRH 908)
    Tune: Trentham (i.e. Breathe on Me Breath of God)

No list of great English hymns would be complete without an entry from Isaac Watts. I've used Watts' original words (found in NRH, but not HHT) and reinstated Watts' original second verse.

10. Saviour, Seated at Thy Table   [Words and Chords]
      (HHT 6 ; NRH 911)
      Tune: Nettleton (i.e. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

No Apostolic list of Communion hymns would be complete without an entry from Ian Macpherson. Omri Bowen set it to Austria (i.e. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, or Deutschland, Deutschland), but I didn't think that was a great tune for a contemporary congregation, so chose one that's a bit more popular today. It will also work to Blaenwern (i.e. Love Divine), Hyfrydol (i.e. I will tell the wondrous story), Ebenezer (i.e. O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus), or to Here is Love Vast as the Ocean.

11. Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness   [Words and Chords]
      (RH 366 ; NRH 513)
      Tune: Mainzer

Okay, this one somehow sneaked through, even though it isn't exactly a Communion hymn. But it is a hymn that's very apt for the Breaking of Bread service, and one with words so good that we should sing it a lot more.

Anyway, these are just a few of the great Communion hymns to be found in Hymns at the Holy Table, the Redemption Hymnal, and the New Redemption Hymnal. Hopefully they'll encourage some people to explore some of the others as well. And maybe they'll encourage a few people to sing. Above all, I hope they'll help people grasp afresh something of the reality of communion with Christ in His body and blood at His Table.