Author: Carl P. Daw
This is a prayer that God would help us to worship Him through the Word and Communion, to take our worship out into the world, and to look forward to the final banquet at the end of time, of which Communion is a picture of. The final stanza refers to the Parable of the Banquet in Luke 14: “Then the master of the house … said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.'” (Luke 14:21-23, ESV)
Carl P. Daw, an Episcopal priest and writer, was commissioned to write this hymn in 1989 for a tricentennial celebration of an Episcopal church in Virginia. He writes in his notes on the hymn “The motto for the celebration was 'Repeat the sounding joy,' which the committee hoped to have incorporated into the text.” (A Year of Grace, p. 160) Those words, which are from the second stanza of Isaac Watts's “Joy to the World,” are the last line of Daw's hymn. “The first stanza calls attention to the two interrelated parts of the Eucharist, Word and Table, by intentionally mixing the language associated with each part.” (A Year of Grace, p. 160) The second stanza is derived from parts of the liturgy for a Communion service from the Book of Common Prayer. The third stanza is based on the Parable of the Banquet, and concludes with the celebration's motto.
For a recent hymn that has been published in only about a dozen hymnals, “As We Gather at Your Table” has a large selection of tunes from which to choose. According to Daw, a tune was to have been commissioned for this text (A Year of Grace, p. 160), but this evidently did not happen. He lists HOLY MANNA, RAQUEL, and IN BABILONE as suitable tunes, all of which have been used in addition to BEACH SPRING, ECCE DEUS, and PLEADING SAVIOR. BEACH SPRING and RAQUEL are used most often.
BEACH SPRING is a pentatonic tune from The Sacred Harp (1844). Benjamin F. White, one of the publishers of that collection, may have been the composer. He lived in Harris County, Georgia. The tune is named after Beach Spring Baptist Church, which is in Harris County.
RAQUEL is a relatively recent tune by Skinner Chávez-Melo, a Hispanic church musician and composer. It was written in 1983 and originally paired with Spanish text by the composer. Chávez-Melo was involved with the production of The Hymnal 1982, as was the hymnologist for whom the tune is named, Raquel Gutierrez-Achon.
This hymn is suitable for use during a Communion service. The opening line of the hymn suggests being sung before Communion; however, the second and third stanzas look toward the future, so it is also appropriate for closing the service after Communion.
One instrumental setting of BEACH SPRING that could be used during Communion is “Beach Spring” for solo handbells and piano. A peaceful setting of “Beach Spring” for woodwind quintet and piano trades the melody between the quintet members. “Cello Solos for Worship” includes a sprightly setting of BEACH SPRING in medley with WARRENTON, another Sacred Harp tune. This arrangement is also available for other instruments, such as violin and French horn.