Sunday, August 06, 2006

August Hymn-of-the-Month: "O Thou, Who at Thy Eucharist Didst Pray"

O Thou, who at Thy Eucharist didst pray
that all Thy Church might be forever one,
grant us at every Eucharist to say
with longing heart and soul, "Thy will be done."
O may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

For all Thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make Thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to Thee, O Prince of Peace;
Thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

We pray Thee too for wanderers from Thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep.
Soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.

So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all Thy Church above,
one with Thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with Thy saints in one unbounded love.
More bless├Ęd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.

Words: William Harry Turton, 1881
Tune: Song 1 Orlando Gibbons, 1623 (alt: Sacramentum Unitatis, Ffigysbren)
Meter: 10 10 10 10 10 10

The first time we sang it at St. Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow, I immediately fell in love with this hymn. We are reminded in the first stanza that Jesus celebrated the very first Eucharist, and that he inaugurated this peculiar ritual not only for his own "remembrance" - that is, so his disciples would simply call him to mind, pondering their memory of his sacrifice on Calvary - but also that we, his followers throughout the ages, might be that "re-member-ing" itself. In saying "Thy will be done," and in our perpetual celebration of this sacrament, we are made into Jesus' likeness, and thereby, as a unified church, "one Bread, one Body," His Body is made incarnate in the world. By this populating, i.e. "(re)membering," Christ is present among and in us and we in Him.

The middle two stanzas remind us of two other aspects of our "being" as the Body of Christ called Church: our intercession on behalf of the world (universally) and the lost (particularly). We plead for peace; we pray that wanderers we brought back to the faith. But we acknowledge that this cannot happen, we cannot truly "be" for the world, until our "sad divisions" cease. These divisions prevent us from fully and holistically reflecting Christ to the world. They are like the cracks in a mirror that distort the image it displays. But these cracks are mended in our eucharistic worship, as we hear the Word proclaimed; as we confess our sin and inadequacy as well as confessing the Credo of our faith; as we offer back to God what God has so graciously given us; as we share His peace with one another; as we receive back God's gifts once again as spiritual food; and as we "go in peace to love and serve the Lord," we are brought together by drawing, or really being drawn, ever-nearer to Christ. With precision, these actions make us the Church.

Really it was the last stanza that had the biggest initial impact on me. This was, perhaps, the first time the thought occurred to me that sacraments, however important and necessary, are only stop-gaps. A day will come when they will indeed cease; then we will receive not just a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet that we await when Christ calls his bride the Church home, but will actually sit down to enjoy that cosmic feast. Though we should never stop working to the end of unity in the here-and-now, we must remember that then, and only then, will the Church be truly one in "unbroken peace" and "unbounded love." Until that time, we are always Christ's blessed-yet-broken Body, torn apart that it might be given away to and for the life of the world.

Selection and Commentary by Brannon Hancock

No comments: