“Bread of the World”

"Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you" (1 Cor. 11.24)

     INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us that the bread represents the body of Christ which was broken for us is "Bread of the World." The text, in two stanzas, was written by Reginald Heber (1783-1826). It is known to have been produced sometime between 1807 and 1823, perhaps around 1822, while Heber was minister at Hodnet, England, but was not published until 1827, after his death, in a posthumous collection of his poetry, Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Service of the Church Year.  I have taken the liberty to add a third stanza. Heber is probably best known for his hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy." The tune (Eucharistic Hymn) for "Bread of the World" was composed by John Sebastian Bach Hodges, who was born in 1830 at Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, the son of composer Edward Hodges, who had arranged the theme from the finale of Beethovan’s Ninth Symphony as a hymn tune, to which we sing "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." His father moved to Canada in 1838 and the following year went to New York City, NY. Coming to America in 1845 at the age of fifteen to join Edward, John attended Columbia University and the General Theological Seminary in New York and became an Episcopal minister, serving first at Pittsburgh, PA; then Chicago, IL; and at Nashotah House, WI.

     From 1860 to 1870, Hodges worked with the Grace/Second Episcopal Church in Newark, NJ. It was while there in 1869 that he compiled The Book of Common Praise which first contained this melody, produced for Heber’s text the year before. Beginning in 1870, he served as minister with St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore, MD, for 35 years, where he assisted in the 1874 and 1892 editions of the Episcopal Hymnal and helped to edit the revised edition of Hymn Tunes in 1903. He is credited with some 100 tunes and anthems before his death on May 1, 1915, in Baltimore, MD. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson. Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

     The song focuses our attention upon the elements of the Lord’s supper and what they should mean to us.

I. Stanza 1 identifies Christ as the bread of the world
"Bread of the world, in mercy broken, Wine of the soul, in mercy shed,
By whom the words of life were spoken, And in whose death our sins are dead."
 A. The bread of the Lord’s supper reminds us that Christ, whose body it represents, is the bread of the world: Jn. 6.51
 B. Some people object to the word "wine" being used with reference to the Lord’s supper (Sanderson altered it to "cup" in Christian Hymns No. 3), but we often point out that in both English and Greek, "wine" can refer to either fermented or fresh grape juice; the cup (fruit of the vine) of the Lord’s supper reminds us that Christ shed His blood for the remission of our sins: Matt. 2627-.28
 C. As the Bread of the world and Wine of the soul, Christ spoke the words of life which He gave His life and shed His blood to make possible: Jn. 6.55-63

II. Stanza 2 asks Christ to look upon us as we partake
"Look on the heart by sorrow broken, Look on the tears by sinners shed;
And be Thy feast to us the token, That by Thy grace our souls are fed."
 A. Many who eat the Lord’s supper do so with hearts broken by sorrow, but they can be reminded that Jesus died that their hearts might be sprinkled from an evil conscience: Heb. 10.19-22
 B. In eating the supper, we are reminded not only that Jesus died but also that His death was caused by our sins; so we mourn because of our sins, but we also know that we can be comforted because Jesus provides salvation from sin: Matt. 5.4
 C. Thus, the feast is to us a "token;" Albert E. Bailey wrote, "Apparently the poet asks Christ to look upon each individual as he comes to the Lord’s table, upon the sorrowing, upon the repentant sinner, and then prays that the sacrament may be a reminder of the spiritual food which comes to us by God’s grace. If this interpretation is correct, Heber was not a believer in the miraculous transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, which is the Roman Catholic interpretation, or even in the ‘Real Presence,’ which is the Anglican doctrine that Christ is actually present in the elements along with the real bread and wine. He believes rather in the symbolic or suggestive function of the Sacrament; what feeds our soul is the spiritual touch of Christ as we endeavor through this rite to make contact with Him." Aside from using the word "Sacrament," I would tend to agree; the function of the Lord’s supper is to bring us into remembrance of God’s grace shown to us through the sacrifice of Christ to meet our spiritual needs: 1 Cor. 11.25-26

III. Stanza 3 points out that we eat the bread and drink the cup in memory of Him
"We eat the bread which has been broken; We drink the cup of Christ, our Head.
And we remember what was spoken: ‘Do this in memory,’ He said."
 A. Again, the bread which we break (eat) reminds us of Christ’s body: Matt. 26.26
 B. Also, the cup which we drink reminds us of the blood that Christ, our Head, shed for us: Mk. 14.23-25, Eph. 1.22-23
 C. In eating and drinking, we are reminded of His words, "Do this in remembrance of Me": Lk. 22.19

     CONCL.: Many might look upon this hymn as a little too "mystical," and this possibility may account for its lack of inclusion in most of the more popular hymnbooks among brethren in recent years. However, if it is understood properly, I find nothing in it to which I would specifically object. While we do not literally eat the flesh and blood of Christ, it is good to reminded, as we partake of the Lord’s supper, that the Christ whom we honor in it is the "Bread of the World."


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