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History of Hymns: "I Come with Joy"

"I Come with Joy"
by Brian Wren;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 617

Brian Wren

I come with joy to meet my Lord,
forgiven, loved and free,
in awe and wonder to recall
his life laid down for me.
*

The Lord’s Supper is one of the most important practices of the Christian church.

Although not a universal ritual among Christians (for example, neither the Society of Friends nor the Salvation Army celebrates Communion) and many Christian traditions are unable to celebrate around the table together, the Lord’s Supper is a primary symbol of our relationship to Christ and one another.

Brian Wren (b. 1936) is one of the most vibrant hymn writing voices today. One would have to search carefully to find a hymnal that did not include at least a handful of his hymns. “I come with joy,” for example, appears in at least forty hymnals in North America. Brian Wren was born and raised in Romford, Essex, England. His B.A. and Ph.D. degrees are from Oxford University. He was ordained in the United Reformed Church in Great Britain, but now is now a citizen of the United States. He holds the distinction of Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, and has been honored as a Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, in addition to possessing a lengthy list of publications and professional accomplishments. Brian is married to Susan Heafield, a United Methodist minister, who sometimes collaborates with him in composing congregational song. They share a ministry in providincreative worship resources that may be found at www.praisepartnersworship.com.

“I Come with Joy” was written in 1968 for the author’s congregation at Hockley as a summation of a sermon series on Communion. It reflects a shift in many Communion hymns since the Second Vatican Counsel (1962-65) from the Lord’s Supper as a memorial observance to Communion as a celebration that shapes the Christian community – the body of Christ. Rather than focusing on the suffering Christ on the cross, an image most appropriate to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, many recent Communion hymns emphasize the Eucharistic dimensions of the feast. “Eucharist” is a term from the Greek that denotes thanksgiving. Thus, uncharacteristic of many older Communion hymns, the incipit (first line) speaks of an attitude of joy when approaching the Table.

The first stanza is written from a first-person singular perspective. The individual worshipper comes to the table with joy for what Christ has done. We are “forgiven, loved, and free.” Indeed, if this hymn were sung immediately before the Great Thanksgiving, or Eucharistic prayer, many congregations would have participated in the prayer of confession, received the words of assurance of pardon, and passed the peace of Christ to one another. Thus, as we approach the Table, our earlier ritual actions would enable us to indeed be “forgiven, loved, and free.”

The second stanza places the individual worshiper of the previous stanza within the broader Christian fellowship – with “Christians far and near” who are part of “the new community of love.” No longer is this a table of individual penitence, but a communal feast enabled by “Christ’s communion bread.”

By the third stanza, the perspective changes from the first person singular to the first person plural. It is now “we” and “us” who are being shaped as one in Christ’s love. It is the Table that bridges the barriers that divide us: Christ’s love “makes us one” and “strangers now are friends.”

The fourth stanza, “we meet the Lord” and experience “His presence” through the meal. Christ’s presence, always near, is experienced “in . . . friendship better known.”

The final stanza functions as a sung benediction. “Together met, together bound,we'll go our different ways.” Through the singing of this hymn, we are molded into the body of Christ in worship and return to the world to witness, not as individual Christians, but as Christ’s “people in the world.”

Brian Wren often revisits his texts. Recent publications indicate the revision of his opening line from “I come with joy to meet my Lord” to “I come with joy, a child of God.” This modification strengthens the relationship between Christ and his children – a family that gathers at the table.

The Rev. Wren is the author of several books, the best known of which are What Language Shall I Borrow? - God-Talk in Worship: A Male Response to Feminist Theology (1989, 2009), Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song (2000), Advent, Christmas and Epiphany: Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship (2008), Hymns for Today (2009), and seven collections devoted to his approximately 250 hymns.

*© 1971, rev. 1995 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.