“Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread”

"He took bread, and blessed it, and broke, and gave to them, and their eyes were opened, and they knew Him" (Lk. 24:30-31)

     INTRO.: A hymn which uses the instance where Jesus was known to the two disciples at Emmaus by the breaking of bread and applies it to the Lord’s supper is "Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread." The text was written by John Montgomery (1771-1854). It was first published in Montgomery’s Christian Psalmist of 1825 under the title "The Family Table," and then republished in his Original Hymns of 1853 with the same title. Apparently, various alterations have been made in the text. Many books use only a cento consisting of the last two stanzas of the poem, which actually begins with the stanza "Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless." Below, I have taken stanza 4 of the original poem, beginning "Be known to us in breaking bread," followed with stanzas 1, 2, and 3, concluded with stanza 5. Several tunes have been used with the hymn, including one (St. Agnes) composed in 1866 by John Bacchus Dykes and commonly associated with the medieval Latin hymn "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee," and another (St. Peter) composed in 1836 by Alexander R. Reneigle and often used today with John Oxenham’s hymn "In Christ There Is No East or West." Another tune (Byefield) to which Montgomery’s text can be set very appropriately was composed in 1840 by Thomas Hastings (1784-1872). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the cento version of two stanzas, with a tune (Dundee), from the Scottish Psalter of 1615 that is usually associated with William Cowper’s "God Moves in a Mysterious Way, appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.

     The song expresses several concepts that are related to the breaking of bread.

I. Stanza 1 asks the Lord to be known to us in breaking bread
"Be known to us in breaking bread, But do not then depart;
Savior, abide with us, and spread Thy table in our heart."
 A. The Lord was known to the two disciples by the breaking of bread, but then departed: Lk. 24:35
 B. There is a sense in which the Lord is known to us in that the bread which we break is the communion of His body: 1 Cor. 10:16
 C. And as we eat, the Lord will abide with us and spread His table in our heart as we show forth His death: 1 Cor. 11:26

II. Stanza 2 asks the Lord to refresh and bless us
"Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless Thy chosen pilgrim flock
With manna in the wilderness, With water from the rock."
 A. The one whose death on the tree that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness, we remember is the Shepherd of our souls: 1 Pet. 2:24-25
 B. This same Shepherd can refresh us just as He gave manna to the Israelites in the wilderness: Exo. 16:29-31
 C. And He can bless us just as He gave Israel water from the rock: Exo. 17:1-6

III. Stanza 3 asks the Lord to give us joy from His sorrows
"Hungry and thirsty, faint and weak, As Thou when here below,
Our souls the joys celestial seek Which (That) from Thy sorrows flow."
 A. We need to hunger and thirst after righteousness: Matt. 5:6
 B. When we are filled, we can have joys celestial: 1 Pet. 1:8
 C. However, we must remember that these joys are possible only because they flow from Christ’s sorrows: Isa. 53:1-3

IV. Stanza 4 asks the Lord to strengthen us by His word of grace
"We would not live by bread alone, But by Thy word of grace,
In strength of which we travel on To our abiding place."
 A. Jesus Himself said that man cannot live by bread alone: Matt. 4:4
 B. Rather, we need the word of His grace: Acts 20:32
 C. God has many ways to help strengthen us; eating the bread and drinking the cup, which are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, help us remember His death, and Jesus then talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood in an even more symbolic sense of feeding upon His word: Jn. 6:53-63

V. Stanza 5 asks the Lord to eat the supper with us
"Lord, sup (or There eat) with us in love divine; Thy body and thy blood
That living bread, that heavenly wine, Be our immortal food."
 A. The Lord will sup with us because He promised that He would drink the fruit of the vine anew with His disciples in His kingdom: Matt. 26:29
 B. The bread represents His body and the cup represents His blood: Mk. 14:22-24
 C. Therefore, as we eat the bread and drink the cup, it reminds us of the death of Christ and the "immortal food" that He made possible by His death: 1 Cor. 11:23-25

     CONCL.: Some people may not like the highly symbolic language of Lord’s supper hymns such as this which seem to mix metaphors. However, I believe that it can be understood in a scriptural manner. The elements of the Lord’s supper, themselves symbols of the body and blood of Christ, remind us not only of His death but also of all the spiritual blessings that He has made possible for us, including His word of grace by which we eat the bread of life and drink the water of life. Thus, while we cannot literally sup with Christ as the disciples did when He was here on earth, we can spiritually feast with Him as we ask Him, "Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread."


One thought on ““Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread”

  1. This is something that had escaped my notice until now, but the Great Songs of the Church No. 2 supplement, Great Songs Revised, and Praise for the Lord all have stanzas 2, 3, and 4 above, listed simply as coming from the “Collection of Hymns of the United Brethren,” 1932, with a tune (Dundee-Windsor) attributed to Christopher Tye, 1552, and arranged in William Damon’s “Book of Musicke,” 1591.


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