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
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.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

1) Great hymn, and one that I never saw or considered before! I really like it. I notice you linked to an uninclusivized text ("Son", "brothers"); do you have any suggested emendations? (You may suggest such without violating copyright, as long as you don't quote the whole rewrite, I think.)

2) That trans-Atlantic copyright inconsistency cuts both ways. Dearmer's stuff is available across the pond, but Vaughan Williams' work in the 1906 English Hymnal is out of copyright here but still under © in the UK...

3) I agree with you that your nos. 1 and 4 are unlikely to make ;'s list. I'm a bit more optimistic than you about your nos. 5 & 8, and I think no. 10 stands a small but real chance; and I agree that nos. 2, 7 and 9 are almost certain to make the list. I know little about baseball myself, but I know enough to assure you that if you get 4 out of 10 you're doing exceptionally well...

Dorothy said...

Its no surprise that I've never seen or heard of this one either but I do love it! I love it for the same reason that you state, C.W.S., the way it links us to the earliest Christians in the spirit of loving fellowship. Especially that last verse really conveys to me the unity of believers through Christ. I definitely wish this hymn was more widely known...and sung.

C.W.S. said...

I've added a bit to the entry with some thoughts on why the hymn may not have made it into more hymnals, which I had intended to include originally.

There were some changes made with the permission of the copyright holder when we used this in our project. Two of them had been made by the editors of Rejoice in the Lord:

1) "corn" in the last verse to "grain" (even in the Deep South I doubt they use cornbread for communion)

2) in verse 4: "so may we here, united in one Body

A few more, made by our committee:

3) verse 1, line 1: "As the disciples, after Jesus left them

4) verse 1, line 3: "of that final Supper"

5: verse 4, line 3: "that in the Spirit" (as in the last verse)

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Your text link is broken (MediaWiki). Here's a link to Hymnary.org's text: As the disciples, when thy Son had left them. Now we'll see if Blogger is accepting my contributions today...