Let us break bread together on our knees;
let us break bread together on our knees.
Let us drink wine together on our knees;
let us drink wine together on our knees.
Let us praise God together on our knees;
let us praise God together on our knees.
When I fall on my knees,
with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me.
~ African-American Spiritual
This week, we are having a gospel and jazz service. It just happens to coincide with Black History Month. Instead of preaching a traditional sermon, I looked at the history of the songs and the scripture verses behind them. This communion liturgy is based upon “Let Us Break Bread Together.”
The familiar hymn “Let Us Break Bread Together” is an African-American spiritual that finds its roots in 19thcentury Virginia or South Carolina. It is an invitation to come together in worship and, more specifically, to share the Lord’s Supper together.
In our tradition (PCUSA), we don’t celebrate the Sacrament on our knees. We receive the elements from the comfort of our chairs or in assembly-line fashion here at the front. Most would argue that the physical posture we take isn’t as important as our heart posture.
But posture is less important when we have the ability to choose it. For those of us who can’t walk up and receive the elements, it’s not about comfort but practicality that we sit. And for many of us, if we were to kneel, we’d need help getting up. But no one forces us to kneel or bow down. Not here in this sanctuary. Not in the other areas of our lives.
But that wasn’t true for those who first sung these words. The choice of whether they stood or sat, knelt or fell down, was not their own. Their bodies didn’t belong to them. Their freedom to gather as we do was only at the will of others.
And yet gather they did. And by their own will, they fell on their knees to receive in the bread and cup the promise of redemption that was elusive in everyday life. With humility (Lord, have mercy on me) they turned to the rising sun, knowing that salvation was true even in the midst of slavery and oppression. Let us give our thanks.When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me. Click To Tweet
Prayer of Thanksgiving
God who redeemed Joseph from slavery and prison and your people Israel for slavery and oppression – you continue to hear the cries of the suffering and remember your covenant. Your loving kindness remains true from generation to generation. God in your faithfulness, we give you thanks.
Jesus who redeems our lives from the grip of death – you continue to save your people. Having set aside your privilege to walk with us in the messiness of the human condition, we seek to follow your example. You showed that power is not about oppression but liberation. Jesus in your love, we give you thanks.
Holy Spirit who redeems the secular within us to make it sacred – you continue to work within believers and the Church to bring light to the world. You both encourage and convict us in truth. Spirit in your advocacy, we give you thanks.
As you have in the past and will do until time ends, we pray, Holy Spirit, that you would make this cup and loaf more than what we set on the table. May they become the reality of our hope in you, our communion with Christ and one another.
As we prepare to break bread together, we first join our voices in the prayer, using the words each of us finds most familiar, saying: Our Father…
In order to be shared, the loaf must be broken. If it isn’t, it does not fulfill its promise. And so, we break the bread and give thanks for it – for in its brokenness, we find wholeness.
The cup too, must be poured. One vessel is emptied, so the other might be filled. And from the cup, we share the juice – for in the pouring out, we find grace.
We do this again and again – as has been done in homes and secret rooms, castles and high cathedrals, in pews and at kneeling rails – knowing that each time we do, we proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection until one day he comes again.
Regardless of whether we sit or stand, let us come with humbled hearts and trust in the rising sun.
Prayer After Communion
Loving and holy God, when the taste of cup and bread fade from our lips, remind our hearts to continue facing the rising sun. For it is in you that we find mercy. It is in you we have our hope. For this meal we have shared and the truth it represents, we give you thanks. Amen.
If you are looking for more liturgical resources, please consider checking out my book:
Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for WorshipPrayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.