837

Let Us Break Bread Together

Full Text

1 Let us break bread together on our knees;
let us break bread together on our knees.

Refrain:
When I fall on my knees,
with my face to the Lord of life, (rising sun),
O Lord, have mercy on me.

2 Let us drink wine together on our knees;
let us drink wine together on our knees. [Refrain]

3 Let us praise God together on our knees;
let us praise God together on our knees. [Refrain]

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Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

The text discerns participation in the Lord's Supper as a humble act in which we not only eat the bread (st. 1) and drink the wine (st. 2) but also praise our God (st. 3) "on our knees." The refrain ends with a prayer for mercy, an African American kyrie  that reminds us of the tax collector's prayer in Luke 18:13.

 

Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

In this song, the communal nature of the sacrament (“us…we”) is emphasized. While we sing it, we ought to be aware that, for the most part, the confessions of the church speak in the plural (“we”). This picture of many coming together is matched by the plural “we who are many are one body” in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 28, Question and Answer 77. In Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 38 Christ offers his body and blood to “his people” as the Holy Spirit “binds us to each other as we share one loaf and cup.” Belgic Confession, Article 35, exhorts us to receive the holy sacrament “in the gathering of God’s people.”

837

Let Us Break Bread Together

Additional Prayers

A Prayer of Acclamation and Mutual Address
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, you submitted to torture for us sinners.
Let us break bread together on our knees.
You were pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.
Let us drink wine together on our knees.
You took up our pain and bore our suffering.
Let us praise God together on our knees in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
— Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
837

Let Us Break Bread Together

Tune Information

Name
BREAK BREAD TOGETHER
Key
E♭ Major
Meter
10.10.14.7
837

Let Us Break Bread Together

Hymn Story/Background

Some of the stanzas of this African American spiritual may date back to the eighteenth century. Other stanzas have been added by oral tradition. A look through modern hymnals will reveal an array of variations on the text. The song's use at communion services probably dates from after the American Civil War. Miles Mark Fisher notes in Negro Slave Songs in the United States (1953),
[Originally the hymn] relates hardly at all to holy communion, which does not necessarily require early morning administration or a devotee who faces east. [This] it seems was a signal song of Virginia slaves during the eighteenth century who used it and similar ones to convene their secret meetings.
 
The text discerns participation in the Lord's Supper as a humble act in which we not only eat the bread (st. 1) and drink the wine (st. 2) but also praise our God (st. 3) "on our knees." The refrain ends with a prayer for mercy, an African American kyrie that reminds us of the tax collector's prayer in Luke 18:13.
 
The tune BREAK BREAD TOGETHER, like the text, has been subject to variation. It became widely known after publication in The Second Book of Negro Spirituals (1926), compiled by the brothers James Weldon Johnson and Rosamond Johnson. The tune gained further popularity through a variety of choral arrangements; it can be found in many hymnals dating after 1955, when it was published in the American Presbyterian/Reformed Hymnbook. Dale Grotenhuis harmonized the tune in 1984 for the 1987 Psalter Hymnal.
 
Arranged without the call-and-response pattern that often characterizes African American spirituals, BREAK BREAD TOGETHER in the Psalter Hymnal takes the shape of a regular hymn, with part singing on the stanzas and refrain. If you like, however, sing stanzas 1 and 2 in unison and the refrain and stanza 3 in parts—a higher melody line for stanza 3 is published in The Hymnal 1982 (1985), a revision of the American Protestant Episcopal Hymnal 1940. In addition, try singing the entire song without accompaniment.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Dale Grotenhuis (b. Cedar Grove, WI, 1931; d. Jenison, Mi, August 17, 2012) was a member of the 1987 Psalter Hymnal 1987 Revision Committee, and was professor of music and director of choral music at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa, from 1960 until he retired in 1994 to concentrate on composition. Educated at Calvin College; Michigan State University, Lansing; and Ohio State University, Columbus; he combined teaching with composition throughout his career and was a widely published composer of choral music. He also directed the Dordt choir in a large number of recordings, including many psalm arrangements found in the 1959 edition of the Psalter Hymnal.
— Bert Polman
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