Updated: Aug 1, 2021
Text: Johann von Rist (1607-1667) Tune: Samuel Wesley (1766-1837)
1 O living bread from heaven, How you have fed your guest! The gifts you now have given Have filled my heart with rest. O wondrous food of blessing, O cup that heals our woes, My heart, this gift possessing, In thankful song o'erflows!
2 My Lord, you here have led me Within your holiest place, And here yourself have fed me With treasures of your grace; And you have freely given What earth could never buy, The bread of life from heaven, That now I shall not die.
3 You gave me all I wanted, That food can death destroy; And you have freely granted The cup of endless joy. Ah, Lord, I do not merit The favor you have shown, And all my soul and spirit Bow down before your throne.
4 Lord, grant me that, thus strengthened With heav'nly food, while here My course on earth is lengthened, To serve you, Lord most dear. And when you call my spirit To leave this world below, I enter, through your merit, Where joys unmingled flow. Tr. Catherine Winkworth
REFLECTIONS The I AM words from Jesus are sometimes missed for what they signify and what his audience knew immediately: He was saying that he was the same God as Moses met while kneeling before the burning bush. When he asked the voice he heard from the fire who he was, or his name, he heard I AM—that I AM. Or I will be what I will be. There was no image here, only a voice. And the voice said that he was also the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It always intrigues me that our God did not give us a picture or image to worship, but a verb, an action, a moving power that cannot be stopped in time to have a picture taken. Thus the strong prohibition of the Jewish faith not to picture God or make any images. In fact, that is the Second Commandment for the Reformed churches. Thou shalt make no graven images. Luther chose not to make it the second commandment, thinking it was in the first great one, You shall no other Gods before me.
God chooses to be present in our speech, in our voices, when we speak his word. As close as our mouths, Deuteronomy 30:14 says, "the Word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart." We do not see him with our eyes, but we hear the Shepherd’s voice. Now of course Christians had a problem with this. Could they make pictures of Jesus, their God? That was a pressing question for some time, given their Jewish heritage. But Jesus came in the flesh and was present among us in visible ways, even if very few perceived he was God in person, in the flesh.Soon pictures of him and his mother became central themes for artists, and the most frequent subjects of art in Christendom.
When Jesus says I AM The Bread of Life to the multitudes, whom he has fed with baskets of bread he miraculously provided, those who knew got it. Some were outraged at what they thought of as blasphemy. Others understood it, like the disciples in the boat from last week’s lesson, and were terrified. They all knew the story of God sending manna from heaven and now have to deal with Jesus as the living bread from heaven. That is more than manna.
Painters who paint Christ have something of a problem. While they can depict a person, even a holy one, is there a way to signal that Jesus is divine? Many have tried and some have been successful, but theologians have argued that God is hidden in Jesus. To see him on the cross dying is aweful in the old sense of that word. But to see God in Jesus' dying body is a bit more difficult. It takes faith.
Jesus came into the world so we could know God. And live as one of us. This is the mystery of the Incarnation: our creator came to experience our life as we lived it, to be our friend.
It leaves me awed, baffled and grateful. Our God is an awesome God! As the popular contemporary Christian song has it. While there may be better ways to say it, and there are thousands of great pieces of music that do—think Bach, Handel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, etc.—it is good to hear the contemporary song sung by many who many not warm up to the classics, but still need to testify to this truth.
The Rist hymn is filled with awe that our Lord Jesus gives himself as living bread at the altar. It is a glory to know it and receive him in his word daily and in church from the sermon and in the bread offered at his table. See how much God has done to be with us, near us, and saving us. An awesome thing! "With thanks our hearts overflow!"
Johann von Rist was a contemporary of Paul Gerhardt and suffered many of the same sorrows as he during the Thirty Years War. Born in Ottensen, near Hamburg, he was dedicated for ministry from his youth. He was a fine student and well regarded as a teacher in the area. He attended Rostock University where the Thirty Years Wars were somewhat distant, but he suffered from the economic difficulties of the time in addition to becoming ill with the local plague. He wrote over 600 hymns, most of which were intended for private meditation, but many have become classics in Lutheran hymnals. He returned to pastor in the Hamburg area. Rist is one of the best of Lutheran hymn writers for the family altar. This was first intended to be sung at home as one prepared to receive communion. Because composers were looking for new texts all the time, his texts became popular with the congregations in the area. This hymn appeared in 1654. It had eight stanzas of eight lines. The hymn had the title "A devotional hymn, which may be sung when the people are about to take their place at the Holy Communion of the Lord."
The tune of course is easily recognized as Aurelia, the tune for “The Church’s One Foundation” by Samuel Sebastian Wesley. There are other tunes for it. While it has been a durable hymn in the tradition, it is not in the top 100.
Mary Ruth https://youtu.be/RlFL7AN_ecA
Sacred Harp Tune for Rist’s text