Hymn of the Month- Feb 4th Update

By: Stephen Schall

January finds us exploring a new tune, RENDEZ À DIEU, which can be sung with several terrific texts. So far we have sung it to the hymn, When John Baptized by Jordan’s River and New Songs of Celebration Render. This week we’ll use it twice in the service for two beautiful communion texts.

The first, found in our hymnal, is Bread of the World in Mercy Broken was written by Anglican bishop, Reginald Heber (1783-1826). Heber was a prize-winning poet, and died as bishop of Calcutta, where he baptized the first native-born Christian. This short hymn of only one stanza is small but mighty; it is sung around the world. Heber’s other hymns in The Presbyterian Hymnal are great favorites: Holy, Holy, Holy and Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning. 

Because this first hymn is only one stanza in length, we’re closing with another hymn set to RENDEZ À DIEU, Father, We Thank You, Who Have Planted. This beautiful text is  rooted in the early Christian church, all the way back to the Greek-language Didache (the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a Christian manual from the Church of Antioch, Syria, which some scholars date as early as A.D. 110. To produce this hymn text, F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) translated selected prayers from chapters 9 and 10 of the Didache.

The whole is essentially a hymn of thanksgiving and praise (stanza 1) concluded with a petition for the unity of the church (stanza 2), which reminds us of Christ’s prayer that all believers “may be one” (John 17:21). That unity should be obvious when Christians gather around the Lord’s table, but it should also extend within and between Christian denominations.

Bland Tucker was an Episcopal priest. He was instrumental in developing the Episcopalian Hymnal 1982 and was particularly adept at updating dated phrases within older hymns. He was a Fellow of the American Hymn Society.

The tune is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (c.1510-1561), who is perhaps most familiar to the average pew sitter as the composer of OLD 100TH – the tune to which we sing the Doxology. Bourgeois was a French composer who was responsible for setting the music for the Genevan Psalter – essentially, the Calvinist hymnal. This book contained metrical settings of the Psalms – the only sung texts Calvinists were permitted to use in worship. It’s rather ironic that this tune, which would have been known by heart by those early Presbyterians, is being taught as a “new” one. The melody is beautiful and quite singable, and with at least three texts that are important and helpful for worship, we are sure to use it for years to come!