History of Hymns: “Here is Bread, Here is Wine”
Here Is Bread, Here Is Wine
by Graham Kendrick
The Faith We Sing, 2266
When I finished my first year of university education, my cousin gave me Richard Bertinet’s book, Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread. Over the course of the year, she had taught me to make bread by hand from scratch — no bread machine required! Although the book includes recipes for five different kinds of dough: white, olive oil, brown, rye, and sweet, I’ve never once ventured beyond the first chapter; I make a round loaf of white dough with four simple ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Warm water activates the yeast, flour and salt make it thick, and then my hands knead it to a ball for it to rise. Bread, which has come to symbolize so much, is nothing mysterious. It is made of the simplest stuff.
Two thousand years of ritual practice around Communion have shrouded the moment in mystery. If we strip the theology away for a moment, we uncover a table, a cup of wine, and a loaf of bread — simple things for everyone. Graham Kendrick’s hymn, “Here is Bread,” honors the simplicity of the ritual while acknowledging the immensity of the moment. Born in Northamptonshire, England, in 1950, Kendrick is widely-known for his hymn, “Shine, Jesus, Shine” (1987). The son of a Baptist minister, he studied to be a teacher before becoming a contemporary folk-rock singer and songwriter (Westermeyer, 2010, 310). As a young person in the church, he experienced its inability to properly connect with youth, and he set about using rock and folk music as a means of outreach and evangelism (Canterbury Dictionary). As he discusses in a 2002 interview, his work was meant to evoke a sense of drama, to engage the congregation with the Holy Spirit in a special moment. Music becomes worshipful, he says, only when the congregation itself commits to a deeper relationship with God, offering praise through Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
As complex as the above might sound, “Here Is Bread” (1991) exemplifies the relative simplicity of these goals. Each stanza is made up of two tercets (sets of three lines): two three-syllable lines, followed by the uniting thought, “Christ is with us: He is with us.” The contrast between the two ideas is striking: the visible bread and wine are somehow the same as the immensity of the Christ experience. The course of the hymn deepens our understanding of these simple elements of bread and wine. It isn’t about tackling the issue of transubstantiation; instead, we come to see that the bread and wine are also grace and peace (in the second verse). The refrain describes the transformational power of Communion (“In this bread, there is healing; in this cup there’s life forever). The force of this moment propels us into the third verse, which is not only emblematic of our communal identity as Christians (“Here we are, joined as one”) but reminds us of our responsibility to proclaim the gospel (“We’ll proclaim till he comes…”). Underscored by a fragmented melody of thirds and seconds, united by a steady accompaniment for piano or guitar, the simple and seemingly separate words and elements are essential to one another.
As with the baking of a loaf of bread, which fuses disparate ingredients into one, the heart of the Communion ritual brings together God — above, incarnate, and spirit — and the many people and joins them together through flour, yeast, salt, and water.
For further reading:
Westermeyer, Paul. Hymnal Companion to Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010.
Nancy Jiwon Cho. "Graham Kendrick." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed August 12, 2017, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/g/graham-kendrick.
Melissa Riddle, "10 Questions With: Graham Kendrick," Crosswalk.Com (http://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/10-questions-with-graham-kendrick-1165981.html)
Joshua Zentner-Barrett received a master of sacred music degree from Perkins School of Theology, SMU, in May 2017, where he studied hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.
This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada. For more information about The Hymn Society, visit thehymnsociety.org.