Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Now One Bread United
My countdown here is finished today with the final revelation -- my favorite hymn. I'm a bit sad that, due to the peculiarity of US copyright law**, I don't think I should reproduce it here. But here's a link to the original.
As the disciples, when thy Son had left them
Percy Dearmer, 1931
Tune: DIVA SERVATRIX (220.127.116.11.)
Bayeux Antiphoner, 1739
I've thought it was practically perfect since the first time I sang it many years ago, as it links the earliest followers of Jesus with us in the present day in a truly beautiful succession of poetic images. Unfortunately it is not widely known, especially in this country. My preferred tune (AD TUUM NOMEN, another French church melody) is also unavailable, the arrangement, if not the melody, also under copyright -- it appeared in the Reformed hymnal Rejoice in the Lord (1985).
Percy Dearmer was an Anglican priest (later Canon of Westminster Abbey) who worked with Ralph Vaughan Williams on both Songs of Praise (1931) and the earlier English Hymnal (1906). He translated hymns from Latin and also wrote several hymns of his own, in addition to writing several other books on religious and social justice topics.
I think that this hymn is probably considered insufficiently doctrinal (no "body and blood," for example) for some denominations. The sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, or whatever it may be called, is more than a "commemoration" to many. Also, it may be that the word "rehearsing" at the end of the first verse is problematic for some. Rehearsal implies "not ready for prime time" -- we don't "rehearse" the sacraments - we perform them! I don't think that's what Dearmer had in mind -- the first definition in some dictionaries is simply "to repeat." That's what the disciples did then and what we still do today. There may be another sense to it though; there are other communion hymns that talk about our rite being only a pale reflection of the heavenly Feast we will one day share (the "foretaste of the festal joy"). In this sense too, we are only "rehearsing" for that day.
At any rate, I am fairly sure that this hymn will not appear on the top 100 list at Semicolon. Of the rest of my own list below. we know that Number Three came in at Number Ninety-Nine, and Number Six came in at Number Eighty-Three. I also don't think that Numbers Four, Five, and Ten will appear at all, while Number Eight has a pretty remote chance. Numbers Two, Seven, and Nine should come up somewhere in the remaining sixty-seven, but I'll have to wait and see. This is not a great batting average (as if I knew anything about those!).
10. Jerusalem the golden
9. Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
8. Spirit of God, descend upon my heart
7. Crown thee with many crowns
6. O worship our God
5. The spacious firmament on high
4. Who are these like stars appearing
3. Glorious things of thee are spoken
2. Love divine, all loves excelling
1. As the disciples. when thy Son had left them
**It's by a British hymnwriter and editor, first appeared in a UK hymnal (Songs of Praise - 1931), and appears to be out of copyright in the UK (75 years after the author's death), but since the hymnal's publisher simultaneously published in the US, it seems that it won't be in the US public domain until 2026.