Posted by: rcottrill | May 12, 2014

Let Us Break Bread Together

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Words: a traditional Spiritual
Music: (origin unknown)

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (no added information)

Note: As with many spirituals created by slaves in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this one was passed on orally, and its origin has been lost to us. Hence there is little on that score that I can share with you. Yet I believe the song is worth preserving.

The earliest published version seems to be found in the 1927 volume, The Second Book of Negro Spirituals, by James Weldon Johnson. Johnson (1871-1938) was an African American poet, song writer, and anthologist. He was a self-taught lawyer, and the first black man to pass the bar examinations in Florida.

T here is an interesting theory–which indeed seems plausible–that the third verse was actually the original, and that it was known, in the years before the Civil War as a “gathering song.”

(CH-3) Let us praise God together on our knees;
Let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.

When these words were sung, it was a secret signal of southern slaves (possibly in Virginia) to convene a meeting for worship. This was done, rather than using traditional drums for the purpose, which were forbidden by state law. Even the assembling of slaves to hold a church service was looked upon with suspicion. Believing that such meetings might involve plans for insurrection, this too was prohibited by slave owners.

It’s believed that the verses that relate to the Lord’s Supper were added after the Civil War, making it a hymn suitable for use on that occasion. I notice that sometimes the words “Let us drink wine” are changed to “Let us drink the cup.”–likely to suit those who do not use alcoholic wine for the service. This also matches the way Scripture speaks of this part of the ceremony (Matt. 26:27; I Cor. 11:25).

The question remains as to the significance of “the rising sun” in the song. Some have suggested it symbolizes a search for spiritual light. It might also indicate the longing and hope for a new day of freedom to dawn.

Personally, I wonder if the reference to “the rising sun” perhaps points to the second coming of Christ. The prophet Malachi describes Him as “the Sun of Righteousness [who] shall arise with healing in His wings [or sunbeams]” (Mal. 4:2). And “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (I Cor. 11:26).

CH-1) Let us break bread together on our knees;
Let us break bread together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.

(CH-2) Let us drink wine together on our knees;
Let us drink wine together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees
With my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.

Beyond what is known and surmised about the hymn, we can see it as a passionate call to fellowship for God’s people. Someone has defined “fellowship” as two fellows in one ship. That quaint description makes a point. There is a sense of shared experience involved (“We’re in this together!”), and an implied responsibility to look out for one another, whatever storms may come. That is surely what fellowship is about.

The word is found sixteen times in our English Bibles, mostly in the New Testament. The Greek word for it is koinonia, which speaks of something being held in common. There is a shared intimacy, and companionship suggested. The first time the term is used in the New Testament, it describes what life was like in the early days of the church.

“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread [the Lord’s Supper], and in prayers….Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common [a word related to koinonia]” (Acts 2:42, 44).

Christians are “called into the fellowship of His [God’s] Son” (I Cor. 1:9). “And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (I Jn. 1:3). That will include “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10), because, as we identify ourselves with the cause of Christ, we are bound to receive opposition from this sinful world (II Tim. 3:12). Christian service is called, “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) and, within the church it is a “fellowship of ministering to the saints” (II Cor. 8:4).

As to separation from that which displeases the Lord, we read, “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (II Cor. 6:14). How can we say we are one with Christ and His people if our lives don’t show it? “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness [i.e. sin], we lie and do not practice the truth” (I Jn. 1:6).

1) What are some important truths to remember about the Lord’s Supper?

2) What are biblical principles, and some misconceptions, regarding Christian fellowship?

Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal (no added information)

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