And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” – Luke 22:19-20
We’re in month two of the Year of Hymns project. Week after week, many of us sing hymns in our corporate worship services. Some of the hymns are familiar and some of them are new. It is my opinion that many of them contain words, imagery, and allusions that we don’t fully (and in some cases, at all) understand. But if we take them seriously, well-written hymns can serve as teaching tools for us. This month’s hymn is one of those. There is so much to say about the content of this hymn that if I were to write all I want to say, no one would read it all. In fact, I have written this post three times this week and deleted all three versions. Once I get started, I can’t stop, and in the end I find myself outside the boundaries of my knowledge of the scriptures. So I have decided to offer a bit of background and then point you to the letter to the Hebrews.
This month’s hymn is titled “Come for the Feast is Spread” by Henry Burton. Burton was a Methodist minister in the late 19th century. The melody traditionally paired with this hymn was written by Robert Lowry, the author of last month’s hymn, “Nothing but the Blood.” I wrote the new melody for this hymn about three years ago. When I revisited this song last month for this project, I was surprised to find that the song was not in the Lord’s Supper section of my hymnal. The title alone lends to the assumption that it would be, and the text begins with bread and wine imagery and continues in that vein throughout. The editors of the Trinity Hymnal, however, set this song in the section titled The Free Offer of the Gospel. As I meditated on the words to this hymn, I found myself agreeing with its placement. The text with my alterations is below.
Come for the Feast is Spread
Come for the feast is spread, hark to the call
Come to the Living Bread, offered to all
Come to his house of wine, at his table recline
All that he has is thine, come sinner come
Come where the fountain flows, river of life
Healing for all thy woes, doubting and strife
Millions have been supplied, no one was ever denied
Come to the crimson tide, come sinner come
Come to the throne of grace, where Jesus intercedes
Before the Father’s face, his blood has set you free
He opened heaven’s door, your every sin he bore
And now his righteousness is yours
So come sinner come, come sinner come
Come Christian come
Questions That Need Answering
The hymn obviously points us to the Lord’s Supper which in turn points us to the cross. The first two stanzas speak of the provision, nourishment, and even healing that come to us through Christ. The last stanza turns markedly toward the letter to the Hebrews. And for me, these somewhat rhetorical questions need to be revisited:
What is this throne of grace?
Why do we need Jesus to intercede for us?
What does his blood have to do with us?
How has he borne our sin?
The answers to these questions begin for us in the Old Testament sacrificial system. I’m not knowledgeable enough to get too deep here so I’ll stay on the surface. According to God’s instruction for Israel in the Old Testament, the priest would enter the Holy of Holies (the innermost court of the temple which represented God’s dwelling in the heavenly realm) to make a sacrifice which would atone for the sins of the people. As I understand it, a spotless animal was offered. But the sacrifice was offered in the same way year after year. There was no end to the blood being shed for the peoples’ sins. The shed blood of this animal was supposed to cover the sins of the people. But did it? Could it? The entire book of Hebrews is a commentary on this. In chapter 10 the author writes
The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming- not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an endless reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:1-4
Then why did God demand it? If these sacrifices have no power to take away sins, then why do it? Because there was a greater sacrifice and a greater priest coming. When Jesus approaches the Jordan River in John Chapter 1, John the Baptist cries out “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s a strange thing to say. And it is apparent from the Gospels that nobody really got it. Not until the resurrection. The Old Testament system was pointing us to the work of Christ. Except when Christ the great high priest comes, the priest is also the sacrifice. He offers HIMSELF as the spotless sacrifice. And when he has done this, he sits down. That’s right, there is no need to repeat the sacrifice. Here is how the author of Hebrews explains it:
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. But when [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. – Hebrews 10:11-12
And in verse 19 we see a passage that explains why we can approach the Throne of Grace:
Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22
And so for all those who are weary, hear the invitation of Christ himself in this hymn. No, better yet, hear it in his own words:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Each month I’ll post a new song. These are low-budget recordings and you can have them FREE. Just right-click on the link below, choose “Save Target As,” and it’s all yours. If you want to make a donation, I am funneling all funds from this project to International Justice Mission. Visit the Donate page for more details. And please share this blog with your friends.
(if you can’t download the file, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll email you the MP3)
Words by Henry Burton 1878
Music and additional lyrics Copyright 2010 Eric Parker/BMI
Eric Parker – guitars and vocals
Robert Streets – piano, percussion, production
Brett Nolan – engineering