I need more opportunities for communion in my life.

This is not my way of declaring myself in a particular theological camp. What I am declaring, however is that I recognize the power of what Jesus called for us to do – gather together, with intention, to eat, drink, and remember. To pray together. To work together. To welcome all. To feed all.

I’ve written about my Eucharistic journey elsewhere on this blog and in various essays and papers during seminary. I’m grateful that during seminary, I had the opportunity for communion every Thursday, and I listened carefully to hear whether I was welcome. Some weeks, I was, some weeks, well, not so much. But since then, I have had little opportunity. I have sought out communion services on precious Sundays off. I have attended UUCF’s communion at General Assembly when I have been able. And I made certain that a few hours before my ordination, a small communion service was held for fellow clergy.

And now, in these hard days (made a little easier by last night’s election results), I need this more than ever. I need to be called into sacred space to remember, to pray, to ritualize our connection with each other and the Divine.

I know this ritual doesn’t mean much to many UUs, and there are some who reject it outright because of their spiritual histories. But for me, and for many of us, the Eucharist is deeply meaningful and powerful. And I am glad we have these songs in our hymnal.

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,
oh, Lord, have mercy on me.

Let us drink wine together on our knees…

Let us praise God together on our knees…

Between the Lines only says it is a traditional song, so I asked the internet, and up pops the United Methodists’ Discipleship Ministries, a full site devoted to worship, music, preaching, as well as leadership, church planting, and international ministries. It’s…well, it’s amazing. And included in this site is hymn history and analysis. In the case of this song, it’s by C. Michael Hawn, Distinguished Professor of Church Music at Perkins School of Theology at SMU. He writes this about the history:

In a recently published article in the Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, written by United Methodist Hymnal editor, Dr. Carlton Young, he reveals the probable roots and major variants of this spiritual. Dr. Young suggests that this “spiritual was formed in the West African Gullah/Geechee slave culture that developed in the costal areas of South-Eastern colonial America, including St Helena Island, Beaufort, and Charleston, South Carolina . . ..”

The text of the version that is commonly sung in the United States was first published in The Journal of American Folklore (1925). The Journal included spirituals, as well as African American folk tales and proverbs that were collected by students at the Penn School on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.

A second version appeared in Saint Helena Island Spirituals (1925) by Nicholas Ballanta, a very significant collection that included 103 Gullah spirituals.

Now we don’t know its true origins, or even if this was a coded song as some might suggest. But as Hawn points out, we do know that

African American composer John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) arranged the first solo version with the three stanzas that are common to most hymnals in the United States. He also established the precedent of singing the final stanza up the octave. … This version of the spiritual was popularized by notable African American soloists in the mid-twentieth century such as Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and Marian Anderson.

And so I leave you with Robeson’s version:

“And I’ll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find.”

We sing this incredible line in Come Sing a Song with Me, which we have acknowledged is simultaneously insipid and profound. And while that one isn’t today’s hymn, it is the line that sings over and over in my head even after singing today’s piece.

You see, yesterday’s lament was part of a greater day of grief, sorrow, and anger. Grief over more lives needlessly lost; sorrow over the many burdens family, friends, and colleagues bear; and anger over the shocking lack of compassion and human decency that has led to these moments – too many moments.

By evening’s end, I had found myself in a hole. I’ll let Leo McGarry explain:

My shout was a simple Facebook post that read “I’m pretty low on hope right now. What’s bringing you hope today?” and at last count 37 people jumped in the hole with me, and shared short and long lists of hope, including a photo of a late autumn rose.

Then this morning, my mentor tweeted this blessing:

And then I opened the hymnal and found more hope, in a beautiful, lyrical version of Luke 22:19-20, a version that meets my own Eucharistic theology and which holds my faith for me when I can’t find it.

This do in memory of me;
eat now this broken bread.
This is my life from death set free,
here on my table spread.

This do in memory of me;
drink now this cup, I said.
This shows my love for all to see,
here on my table spread.

We praise your living memory,
remembering all you said.
Your words and life have set us free,
here through your table spread.

I’m not sure I am whole again or full of hope again, but I am grateful for those who are willing to sing songs of hope and faith back to me when I can’t find it myself grateful for those willing to jump into the hole with me, grateful for those who share sacred moments and holy rituals with me, grateful for those who share a rose with me.

Because I will regret not putting this info here, I’ll share some musical details: Our tune was written by a Yorkshireman, Gordon Slater, who became a church organist and conductor after serving in the first World War. As the Reformed Church in North America’s Psalter Hymnal Handbook notes, the tune was first published in Songs of Praise for Boys and Girls (1930) and named for the church where Slater first served as organist. It’s a lovely and somewhat meditative piece, which works well for our lyrics, by UCC minister and professor Wayne Bradley Robinson.