History of Hymns: "Now Let Us from This Table Rise" by Fred Kaan
By Colleen Toole
“Now Let Us from This Table Rise”
by Fred Kaan
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 634
Now let us from this table rise
renewed in body, mind, and soul;
with Christ we die and live again,
his selfless love has made us whole.
Text Copyright © 1968 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There are certain voices in hymnody that ring out clear in their commitment to peace, justice, and God's kingdom. Fred Kaan (1929-2009) was certainly one of those voices, with a long career in ministry, ecumenism, and hymnwriting. Having written more than 200 hymns, with pieces translated into 15 languages, Kaan gave the church a song of hope and peace to sustain and motivate us through difficult times.
Born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, Kaan's worldview was deeply shaped by his experience of the Nazi occupation when he was a teenager. His parents resisted the Nazis in whatever ways they could, including sheltering a Jewish woman and an escaped political prisoner. It was out of this experience that, in his late teens, Kaan became a pacifist and returned to the church for the first time since his baptism. Through a Congregationalist friend, he became connected more formally with the church and began studying to become a minister at Western College in Bristol. He was ordained in 1955, and started paying closer attention to hymns after an incident in his first church where one of his parishioners said that he was leaving the church because the hymns did not "send him any longer."
It was during his time at Pilgrim Church in Plymouth, beginning in 1963, that Kaan began writing hymns. Often frustrated as he looked through the hymnal without finding the right words to support the message of the day, he took advantage of the freedom this particular congregation had given him to experiment in worship and began to write his own hymns. He was 34 when he wrote his first hymn: "Now Let Us from This Table Rise."
Kaan has said, "My first text was a post-communion text. How could it have been otherwise? What happens after we have shared the bread and wine at the Lord's table has from the beginning been one of my main preoccupations: how do we make the transition from worship to service; how do we prepare ourselves for the liturgy after the liturgy?"1
Indeed, "Now Let Us from This Table Rise" is an ideal post-communion hymn, connecting the liturgical action of the Lord's Supper to concrete action in the world. The communion table in this hymn is seen as a place of renewal, where we die and are resurrected with Christ. Our experience of grace at the table enables us to live out the message of the Gospel in all we say and do. United with Christ at the table, we become "one with all in hope and deed." The third verse underlines the meaning of this unity with Christ: we are those who continue the work of Christ. This work is framed as the "sacrament of care": spreading love throughout the world. ("Sacrament of Care" became the theme for the 14th International Assembly of the World Federation of Diaconal Associates in 1983.)
The hymn ends with a prayer: for the courage to choose this work (the "pilgrim way", appropriate for the hymn's debut at Pilgrim Church), and to “accept with joy” the difficulties of continuing Christ's work. While God is addressed as "Father God" in Kaan's original text (the version used in the United Methodist Hymnal), he later revised the phrase to "Companion God", noting that the Latin roots are "cum" (together) and "panis" (bread), linking back to the imagery of communion. Kaan explained, "A companion is someone with whom you break bread." Even without this revision, this hymn centers around the images of Christ as companion on the journey, present with us in the breaking of the bread and as we move into the world to continue the work of God as the body of Christ.
Kaan compiled the stronger efforts of his early hymnwriting into a fifty-hymn collection, Pilgrim Praise, first published in 1968. This brought Kaan's hymnwriting to the attention of churches across the United Kingdom. Though not a native English speaker, Kaan's beautiful grasp of words and ability to connect them to a theology of peace helped his hymns travel throughout the United Kingdom and beyond. Fred Kaan is often linked with writers such as Fred Pratt Green and Brian Wren, who were all part of what has often been called the "explosion" of hymnody in the 60's and 70's.
Kaan himself moved away from parish ministry for a time and found himself in Geneva, working in the larger ecumenical movement as one of the major players in the formation of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. His prowess with languages and passion for justice served him well in this work as he visited 82 countries and worked on issues of human rights and inter-church communications. However, he eventually returned to England, first as a moderator in the United Reformed Church, before finally returning to the pastorate. He continued writing hymns after he retired, was made a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada in 2001, and passed away in 2009.
Kaan's body of work is filled with hymns that connect the gospel to the struggles of our hungry, broken, war-torn world: "For the Healing of the Nations," "Help Us Accept Each Other," "Put Peace into Each Other's Hands." In "Now Let Us from This Table Rise," we see the blueprint for the rest of Kaan's work: the experience of God in word and sacrament bidding us to join Christ in the work of bringing abundant love to the world.
1 This and all other direct quotes come from Fred Kaan’s article “My Hymn-Writing Journey”, originally published in The Hymn in July 1996, which can be found online at Hymnary.org
Forecast, Keith. "Fred Kaan: Minister and Celebrated Hymn Writer". The Independent. October 25, 2009.
Kaan, Fred. "My Hymn-Writing Journey." The Hymn, vol. 47, no. 3 (July 1996): 13-20. Accessed on Hymnary.org:
Oestreicher, Paul. "The Rev Fred Kaan Obituary." The Guardian. October 25, 2009.
Young, Carlton R. Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.
About this month’s guest writer:
Colleen Toole is a former Lovelace Scholar of the Hymn Society and a soon-to-be graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. A frequent staff member during the summers at Montreat Conference Center, Colleen's primary research concerns the intersection of gender identity and worship.
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.
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