Remembrance (Communion Song)

Hymnology: Remembrance (Communion Song)

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
~Luke 22:19

Hymn Story

Matt Redman and Matt Maher, two songwriters associated with the influential Passion Movement, are certainly no strangers to collaborative hymn-writing. Each has co-written many contemporary worship songs with other artists, including several written with each other. But “Remembrance (Communion Song)” presented several unique challenges.

The first challenge was the subject of the hymn. There is a reason that there aren’t a lot of songs written about the Lord’s Supper: they are difficult to write! The topic doesn’t lend itself as easily to corporate worship as, say, singing about salvation or our devotion to God—themes for which Scripture itself provides many lyrics, and which are less theologically complex than communion. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it; Redman and Maher agreed that there was a need for more songs addressing such an important element of the Christian faith.

The most imposing challenge, though, was this: How could Redman (a Protestant) and Maher (a Catholic) write a song together on Communion, one of the key doctrinal differences that divides Protestants and Catholics?

In an interview found here, Maher states that their purpose was to write, “a functional communion song for the whole church… regardless of whatever denomination you are a part of or your theological or doctrinal beliefs.” A tall order, indeed! You can determine for yourself how you think they did, as you listen to the versions recorded by each of them.

Matt Redman’s arrangement is found on his album “We Shall Not Be Shaken”:

Matt Maher’s arrangement, which has the same lyrics but a very different feel (he describes his version as “creating an environment” whereas Redman’s was intended to be “more functional” for congregational use), is found on his album “Alive Again”:

Lyrics

Oh, how could it be
That my God would welcome me
Into this mystery?
Say, “take this bread, take this wine”
Now the simple made divine
For any to receive

By Your mercy we come to Your table
By Your grace You are making us faithful

Lord, we remember You
And remembrance leads us to worship
And as we worship You
Our worship leads to communion
We respond to Your invitation
We remember You

See His body, His blood
Know that He has overcome
Every trial that we face
None too lost to be saved
None too broken or ashamed
All are welcome in this place

Dying, You destroyed our death
Rising, You restored our life
Lord Jesus, come in glory
Lord Jesus, come in glory

Hymn Study

In order to ascertain this hymn’s usefulness, it is important to understand the basic differences in how Protestants and Catholics view the Lord’s Supper. Before we get into that, though, let’s start out with a few areas of agreement.

WHERE CATHOLICS AND PROTESTANTS AGREE

We agree that the Lord’s Supper is something which Christ instituted, and ordained that his followers should do when they gather together. We agree as well that the words of Scripture are divinely inspired, and that our practice should be determined by Scripture. Finally, we agree that the elements to be served in the Lord’s Supper are bread & wine.

The differences—and they are critically important, let there be no doubt about that—come in our views on the purposes of Christ’s ordinances, our interpretation of Scripture, and our understanding of what exactly takes place when we receive those elements. What follows is a very over-simplified breakdown of these differences. Resources are provided at the bottom of the page for those looking for more nuance.

THE CATHOLIC VIEW

The Lord’s Supper (or, “Eucharist”) is at the very center of Catholic worship. By the time of the Reformation, the Roman church’s teaching was that the sacraments (of which the Lord’s Supper was one) conveyed grace to those who received them. Therefore, forgiveness for sins could be obtained by participating in the Eucharist.

Catholics believe that the elements of the bread and wine mysteriously change into the actual body & blood of Christ through a process known as transubstantiation. This comes from their interpretation of Christ’s words, “this is my body” and “this is my blood” in Matthew 26:26-28. It is in this way that they teach that believers attain communion with Christ; they are literally united with his body and blood in the Eucharist.

PROTESTANT VIEWS

There is not one single Protestant view, but we can loosely group these views into those represented by three of the Protestant reformers: Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. All agreed that transubstantiation was unbiblical, and that forgiveness/justification was obtained by faith alone, not through communion. But each had a slightly different understanding of Christ’s words “this is my body… my blood.”

Luther believed that Christ is “really” present in forms of the elements, though the bread and wine did not actually become the literal flesh and blood of Christ. This doctrine has come to be known as consubstantiation, and is taught by Lutherans today.

Calvin believed that Christ is not literally present in the elements, but that He is spiritually present. The bread and wine are symbolically representative of Christ, yet believers do truly receive the body and blood of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit when they take Communion. This view is taught in most Reformed and Presbyterian churches today.

Zwingli believed that the bread and wine in the Supper symbolize Christ’s body and blood. The purpose of the sacrament is to cause believers to remember Christ’s atoning work on the cross, as Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me” in Luke 22:19. This view is often called memorialism, and is taught by many Protestant groups today, including Baptists. (Full disclosure: this is my own view.)

CONCLUSIONS

So what are we to make of the song composed by the Matts Redman and Maher? Have they been successful in their effort to produce a “functional” song for Protestants and Catholics alike? Surprisingly enough, I believe that they have.

To the extent that the song repeats the words of Scripture itself, both Protestants and Catholics can sing this song. In each of the views presented above, Christians do believe that Communion serves as a remembrance of Christ on the cross, and that this remembrance should lead us to worship. We all believe that it is God’s grace which makes us faithful, though the manner in which this is accomplished is a major point of contention.

But while Protestants and Catholics may each find this song useful, I have serious reservations about whether they could sing it together. With such a vast amount of disagreement on the meaning of the terms used in the song, Christians with strong convictions about the Lord’s Supper are unlikely to find “communion” with those on the other side of the Catholic/Protestant divide through the lyrics of this song.

All of this underscores the great importance of hymnology. We must understand the words that we are singing! Churches have a responsibility to teach their congregants the doctrinal significance of our hymn lyrics, and the meaning of theological terms which define our core beliefs. And, of course, it is important to have at least a surface familiarity with the beliefs of other denominations, so that we know what to do with a hymn like “Remembrance.”

What about you? How do you feel about hymns co-written by Catholics and Protestants, and about this one in particular? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Resources for further study:

  • Mass Explained—Here is a blog & iPad app that seeks to explain Catholic theology in a fun and accessible way.
  • The Doctrines That DivideThis book by Erwin Lutzer provides an overview of some of the largest doctrinal divides within Christianity, and includes chapter on the Lord’s Supper.
  • The Lord’s Supper (New American Commentary Series)This is a more scholarly look at the doctrine of communion, with closer looks at the variations in interpretation by different Protestant groups, as well as an overview of the Catholic view.
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