- Written by Nelly Sanford Nelly Sanford
- Created: 17 December 2013 17 December 2013
The hymn “What Is This Bread?” was written in 1991 and was first introduced to Lutheranism at large in the 1998 Hymnal Supplement. Since it's a newer hymn, we had to check some online resources rather than the usual books from the church's music library.
Terrible Swede, The Earthy Lutheran writes in his blog that the text was written by Frederic W. Baue and the tune composed by his wife, Jean Neuhauser Baue, for a communion service at Messiah Evangelical Lutheran in Tucson, Arizona. The text is based on questions and answers about Holy Communion found in Luther’s Small Catechism.
Concordia Publishing House describes the hymn as “an excellent text wed to an extremely memorable tune. Perhaps the best loved hymn previewed in the Hymnal supplement 98.” The blog Simply, Christian has this lovely review of the hymn:
This Maundy Thursday we sang a new Communion hymn titled, “What Is This Bread?” (LSB 629) The copyright on the song is 1991, which is very new in our LCMS circle. To put it into perspective a bit, this hymn is across the page from a hymn by Thomas Aquinas dated in the late thirteenth century.
Anyway, this is a great hymn, with a beautiful tune and lyrics that teach a wonderfully rich, unashamedly Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper. There are many wonderfully rich truths taught in this short hymn. In fact, one could use it as a great catachetical tool to teach the basics of a Lutheran understanding of the sacrament.
As we were taking Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday evening, however, I was struck by a line in the third verse, “My God, my God, why have You not forsaken me?” It is a subtle twist on Jesus’ words from the cross and Psalm 22, and it echoes the recurring sentiment of my sinful heart.
There is no direct reply in the verses that follow, which is fine, because the sin-burdened heavy heart does not need a theological treatise on God’s presence with us. What follows is better—the promises of God, through the word, that he is both ever-present with us and that we are forgiven and freed from our sins. Amen. Thanks be to God!
We hope that Saint John’s will enjoy learning this lovely hymn. We're confident that the deeply emotional words will strike a chord in your Lutheran heart as we sing the words of institution mixed with theology from the Small Catechism. It is deeply personal for each of us, whether we’ve recently delved into Luther’s writings or not. See if you can sing it during communion and not feel the emotional tug God places on word and sacrament!
Saint John’s Board of Worship and the Arts oversees the details of the congregation’s worship life.