Like a Multifaceted Diamond

Curating a Lord’s Supper Songbook

Q

In prior columns, you’ve explained that the Lord’s Supper has many layers of meaning (RW 86, RW 88, RW 93, RW blog). My question is how to put that into practice without having to introduce the Lord’s Supper with a long teaching lesson.

A

It is remarkable that biblical narratives link the Lord’s Supper with so many different, complementary themes. The Lord’s Supper is like a multifaceted diamond. It testifies to the one gospel of Jesus and does so by calling attention to several layers of meaning, as the chart below suggests.

To put this into practice, one promising place to start is to identify songs conveying these themes that your church already knows and loves, and then to sing them before or during your Lord’s Supper celebrations. Then gather these into a Lord’s Supper songbook to share as a devotional for use before and after your sacramental celebrations.

Importantly, these songs do not necessarily have to explicitly refer to the Lord’s Supper. For example, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” 18th century, LUYH 61, GtG 88, PsH 328 may not strike many people as a Lord’s Supper song. But when it is sung during a Lord’s Supper celebration, it powerfully expresses how the sacrament looks both back to the past and ahead to the future.

When you choose a song that people might not expect to sing at the Lord’s Supper, provide some way for people to know why the song fits. This could be as simple as printing its key biblical phrases (see chart on next page) on a slide or in the bulletin next to the song lyrics, or providing a pithy, one-sentence explanation such as “Jesus began the first Lord’s Supper celebration by giving thanks for the bread and cup, showing us how gratitude leads the way when we gather here at the Lord’s Table.”

This Lord’s Supper songbook could be as brief as ten songs—one per theme.

The very process of organizing songs in this way will be instructive. You’ll likely find some of these categories more challenging to fill. Pay attention to those. That signals an area of your song repertoire that needs work.

Don’t treat any of these themes as optional. They are, after all, Scriptural. Failing to engage them leaves congregations with only a partial view of the beauty of the Lord’s Supper and of the gospel.

This exercise will likely stretch congregations to include a broader range of emotions in Lord’s Supper celebrations. The Lord’s Supper is a natural home for aching longing, heartfelt penitence, and grateful celebration. Both “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Watts, LUYH 175, GtG 223, PsH 384 and “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” Wesley, LUYH 182, GtG 245, PsH 388 belong at the table.

Having a Lord’s Supper songbook like this can also help churches move toward more frequent Lord’s Supper celebrations, demonstrating how these celebrations could vary over time by highlighting different themes.

The Lord’s Supper

Key Biblical Phrases

Suggested Songs

What songs will you choose for your ministry context?

as a thanksgiving meal

“He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.””

Give Thanks Smith, LUYH 358, GtG 647
Now Thank We All Our God Rinkart, LUYH 543, GtG 643, PsH 454

 

as a foretaste of the heavenly feast

“. . . until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel 18th century, LUYH 61, GtG 88, PsH 328
Soon and Very SoonCrouch, LUYH 482, GtG 384

 

as a feast of illumination

“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

Open Our Eyes, LordCull, SNC 80, WR 491

 

as spiritual nourishment

“Whoever comes to me will never go hungry.”

I Am the Bread of Life Toolan, LUYH 842, GtG 522

 

as testimony about the unity and fellowship of the church

“We, who are many, are one body.”

Blest Be the Tie That Binds Fawcett, LUYH 257, GtG 306, PsH 315
One Bread, One Body Foley, LUYH 835, GtG 530
They’ll Know We Are Christians Scholtes, LUYH 256

 

as renunciation and affirmation

“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too.”

O Jesus, I Have Promised Bode, LUYH 352, GtG 724/725, PsH 285
Cast Down, O God, the Idols Stuempfle, LUYH 626

 

as a countercultural act of hospitality

“When you gather to eat, you should all eat together.””

Christ, Be Our Light Farrell, LUYH 908
Lord, Make Us Servants Quinn, LUYH 904
The Servant Song Gillard, LUYH 309

 

as a proclamation of the life-giving significance of Jesus’ death

“. . . you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many . . .”

Lift High the Cross Kitchin, LUYH 264, GtG 826, PsH 373
In Christ AloneGetty and Townend, LUYH 770
Before the Throne of God Above Bancroft, LUYH 682

 

as a commemoration of Jesus’ life

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Beautiful Savior German, LUYH 17, PsH 461
O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High Latin, LUYH 111, GtG 618, PsH 364

 

as a seal on a covenantal relationship

“. . . the new covenant in my blood.”

This Holy Covenant Was Made Dunstan, LUYH 847
You Are Our God; We Are Your People Hoekema, LUYH 35, PsH 272

 

 

Resources

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.