History of Hymns: 'Eat This Bread and Never Hunger'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Eat This Bread and Never Hunger”
by Dan Damon
Worship and Rejoice, 692
Eat this bread and never hunger,
drink this cup and never thirst;
Christ invites us to the table
where the last become the first.
Asking for a cup of water,
Jesus touched forbidden ground;
and the woman, with a question,
told the world what she had found.*
*© 1993 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
United Methodist minister Daniel Charles Damon (b. 1955) composed the text and music of this Communion hymn in 1992 in response to a contest sponsored by The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. The stanzas encompass the scriptural texts for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays in Lent, Year A—John 4:5–42, John 9:1–41, and John 11:1–45, respectively. The hymn appeared in the author’s first published collection, Faith Will Sing (Carol Stream, IL: 1993). Since this collection, Damon has published six other volumes of his hymns and edited Njalo (Always): A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition (2006) by Zimbabwean United Methodist composer and professor Patrick Matsikenyiri (1937–2021).
Hymn writer Brian Wren (b. 1936) noted in the Foreword to Faith Will Sing that Dan Damon “is one of the gifted few who consistently composes fresh and memorable tunes to interpret the fine hymn texts he has written. Musically versatile himself, he knows that music is more than ‘what’s on the page.’ His hymns are varied in both music and theology.” (Damon, 1993, Foreword)
Damon succinctly summarizes in only thirty syllables the events of this extended pericope of scripture. Stanza 1 recalls the familiar narrative of the Samaritan woman at the well from John 4. Damon introduces the narrative and illuminates its significance (see stanza above). In stanza 2, Jesus encounters the blind man by the pool of Siloam in John 9. Stanza 3 encompasses the famous narrative of the raising of Lazarus in John 11.
The stanzas are framed by a eucharistic refrain echoing John 6:35: “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (NIV). The last two lines of the refrain—“Christ invites us to the table / where the last become the first”—highlight the social location of each person Christ encountered in the stanzas. These persons, though among the most vulnerable in their societal contexts, were first in Jesus’ ministry—a Gentile woman, a disabled man, and a bereaved family. They become symbols for all who were welcome at the table.
To some, placing these three passages in the context of the eucharistic table may be a theological leap. United Methodist liturgical scholar Mark W. Stamm offers a theological foundation for establishing an open table in the center of Christ’s ministry in his book Let Every Soul Be Jesus’ Guest: A Theology of the Open Table (2006):
Most likely, the stories about Jesus feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and eating with sinners are rooted in the practice of the historical Jesus and they also reflect the experience of first-century Christians. At the end of the day, however, the stories cannot be proven as historical matters of fact, yet the biblical texts remain. The church has decided to receive them and read them within the community of the church. It is absolutely certain that the images of Jesus feeding the crowds and eating with sinners remain part of our worldview (Stamm, 2006, p. 55).
Including these narratives within the eucharistic sacrament is a part of John Wesley’s theology, where the Eucharist embodied a “formational structure that functioned as a means of grace” (Stamm, 2006, p. 141). By reminding ourselves of significant events in Christ’s ministry during the Communion sacrament, we deepen their formative power in our lives by extending the table to the vulnerable among us and giving them the first seats at the table.
Damon employs the direct language of a storyteller by using one- and two-syllable words almost exclusively. The musical setting MODESTO consists of stepwise melodic movement. Concluding the refrain on the fifth (G) of the chord (C Major) rather than the home tone mirrors an invitational openness in the text. The easily memorized refrain allows the song to be sung by the faithful as they process to the table, especially if a choir or soloists sing the stanzas.
Dan Damon is a native of Rapid City, South Dakota. He received degrees from Greenville College (BME) and the Pacific School of Religion (MDiv). An ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, he retired in 2020 after twenty-five years serving as pastor of First United Methodist Church, Richmond, California. He is an associate editor for hymnody at Hope Publishing Company and a jazz pianist. Dan and his wife, Eileen M. Johnson, are frequent presenters at annual conferences of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Dan received the Society’s highest distinction, Fellow of The Hymn Society (FHS), in 2016.
Dan Damon, Faith Will Sing (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company, 1993).
Mark W. Stamm, Let Every Soul Be Jesus’s Guest: A Theology of the Open Table (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016).
J. Richard Watson and Carlton R. Young, “Daniel C. Damon,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology, Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/d/daniel-c-damon (accessed January 22, 2023).
Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.