*** This hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi (Thanksgiving for Holy Communion) is essentially a love-song in the medieval tradition of ‘Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts’. Sung in unison, it is especially suitable for congregational singing.
Three Scriptures texts are embedded within the words of this hymn. John’s Gospel provides the substance of the first three stanzas, the Genesis story of Abraham and Melchisedech is behind the next two, and the last stanza combines John’s testimony with that of Paul in 1 Corinthians.
In the first stanza Jesus’ words are summarised in the form of a story. The story is of the last Passover meal that he hosted before his death. A condensation of the text of John 6.53-58 is made to provide his words at that meal.
Verses 2-4 continue Jesus’ speech, but it no longer feels part of a story. Using John’s words, Jesus is now speaking in present time. He uses also the word found in Matthew and Luke: Do this in remembrance of me; but here, in verse two, it is re-expressed as Jesus urging ‘each faithful soul’ to keep ‘my memory warm and whole’.
The second couplet of verse three alludes to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Because he has gone ‘from our sight’ (as the Gospel writers say), he can be present in every place and time. ‘My body now bears every face.’
Verses 4-5 recall the story of Abram (not yet renamed ‘Abraham’) returning victorious from battle and being mysteriously met by King Melchisedech of Salem, who brought out bread and wine. The hymn implies that, even before we return homewards from our various engagements with life in the wide world, Jesus is coming to meet us with the bread and wine of eternal life.
With the fifth stanza the hymn’s voice changes. Now it is the turn of Jesus’ disciples – potentially everybody – to respond to his welcome. Identifying with Abram, who responded generously to Melchisedech’s greeting, worshippers acknowledge the extraordinary resourcefulness of Jesus, for in the ‘honeycomb’ of ‘fellowship with love’s own Lord…every creature is restored’.
At this point the hymn has clearly become what it was from the start: a love-song in the medieval tradition exemplified by the hymn translated as
Jesu, thou joy of loving hearts! Thou fount of life, thou Light of men!
From the best bliss that earth imparts We turn unfilled to thee again…
The worshippers go on in the last verse to acclaim Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven, whose flesh is true food, whose blood is true drink. Paul wrote that as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. At the end of the hymn the singers’ meaning is full-hearted: ‘Amen! Yes to that!’
The music VERNEY is named in gratitude for a friend who sought throughout his ministry to illuminate the mystery of love’s mutual indwelling in heaven and earth.