Although the author of this hymn is unknown, Martin Luther rewrote Stanza 1 and wrote Stanzas 2 and 3. Luther encouraged the singing of this hymn in the Formula Missae (1523) and in his Deutsche Messe (1526). Luther argued from stanza 1, which had been sung in the churches for at least a century, that the practice of Communion in both kinds had been practiced in the church long before the Roman practice of withholding the cup from the laity.
This hymn reflects Luther’s Trinitarian understanding of the Lord’s Supper both in its three stanza structure and in its content, the grace of God (God the Father), the body and blood of Christ (God the Son) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (God the Holy Spirit).
Stanza one, “O Lord, we praise Thee, bless Thee, and adore Thee, In thanksgiving bow before Thee. Thou with Thy body and Thy blood didst nourish Our weak souls that they may flourish: O Lord, have mercy! May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary, That our sins and sorrows did carry, And Thy blood for us plead In all trial, fear, and need: O Lord, have mercy!” In this first verse we begin by praising God, adoring Him and in thanksgiving bowing before Him. Why this praising, adoring and bowing in thanksgiving? We praise, adore, bow in thanksgiving to God for His body and blood that nourish our weak souls. Today is Maundy Thursday and the night in which our Lord gave us His Holy Supper, His body and blood for to nourish our weak souls.
Even more we thank God for Jesus, true God, born of Mary, true man, who bore our sins and sorrows. The price for sin was set in the Garden of Eden at death, physical death and apart from faith in Jesus it would be eternal death in hell. The animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were never intended to pay the price for human sin as the price for human sin was human death. However, the animal sacrifices were a reminder that the price for sin was death and that blood had to be shed, but even more they always pointed to the one ultimate sacrifice of a human to pay the price for human sin. Here we confess that this same body of Jesus that was carried in Mary’s womb, this same body on the cross is the body we eat and the blood we drink, given and shed for us as we plead, in all trial, fear and need.
Stanza two, “Thy holy body into death was given, Life to win for us in heaven. No greater love than this to Thee could bind us; May this feast thereof remind us! O Lord, have mercy! Lord, Thy kindness did so constrain Thee That Thy blood should bless and sustain me. All our debt Thou hast paid; Peace with God once more is made: O Lord, have mercy!” Stanza two reiterates our confession that Jesus gave His body into death to pay the price for sin and to earn our forgiveness and win heaven. Jesus tells us, no greater love can one have than to lay down their life for another as He did for us. As we partake of our Lord’s body and blood in His Holy Supper we are reminded of His great love for us, giving up the glory that was His in heaven, taking on human flesh and blood, living the perfect life demanded of us for us in our place, taking our sins upon Himself, suffering the punishment, the wage for our sins on the cross, that is suffering eternal death in hell, the shedding of His blood, for us, to pay for our sins, for our forgiveness.
We pray that our partaking of the Lord’s Supper will remind us of our Lord’s kindness, His greater love as well praying that His body and blood to sustain us, that we may have peace with God. Indeed, true peace is the peace that only God can give. True peace in knowing our sins are forgiven.
Stanza three, “May God bestow on us His grace and favor That we follow Christ our Savior And live together here in love and union Nor despise this blest Communion! O Lord, have mercy! Let not Thy good Spirit forsake us; Grant that heav’nly-minded He make us; Give Thy Church, Lord, to see Days of peace and unity: O Lord, have mercy!” In stanza three we continue our prayer that God would continue to bestow on us His grace and favor so that we may continue to follow Christ. We also pray for a unity of the Church, that is a unity in faith and doctrine. Here we confess that true Christian unity flows out of our oneness of faith and our oneness of confession in Jesus as our Savior. It is this oneness, this heavenly minded oneness that brings us together and gives us peace and unity in His Holy Christian Church.
And ultimately then we pray for a blessed end in heaven. What is more peaceful and unifying than a peaceful, blessed end of our days of the earth than to live together in perfect unity and harmony with our Lord and with one another in heaven.
This hymn is a fitting Maundy Thursday, giving of the Lord’s Supper hymn. In this hymn we are reminded of the Biblical texts of this hymn; Paul’s words in first Corinthians, “23For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Jesus’ words in Matthew, “26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28). And Peter’s words in first Peter, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
On this Maundy Thursday evening, then, we are reminded that this was the night in which our Lord was betrayed by one of His own apostles, Judas Iscariot. We are reminded that Jesus, Jewish Jesus, was celebrating the annual Passover meal with His disciples. Jesus was celebrating the meal that was meant to remind the Children of Israel how God delivered them from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. And yet, even more for us, we are reminded that from this Passover meal Jesus gives us something better and greater. As the blood of the lamb was painted on the door post and lintel of the houses in Egypt and the lamb eaten so that the angel of death would pass over those houses and not kill the firstborn, so Jesus gives us His Holy Supper. In this Holy Supper, in this Lord’s Supper Jesus gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink, marking us so the angel of eternal death will pass over us and not condemn us to eternal death and hell. Perhaps it was this marking of the door post and lintel and the eating of the lamb were one of the reasons Luther was so adamant about the people partaking of the Lord’s Supper in both kinds, that is in the bread and the wine. As the Israelites ate the lamb it became a part of them. Today, as we partake of the body and blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, so He becomes a part of us, a physical part of us. Thus, His perfect life becomes our perfect life. His perfect obedience is counted as our perfect obedience. His perfect suffering and death becomes our perfect suffering and death and His resurrection becomes our resurrection.
As we come to the Lord’s Table, we eat His body and drink His blood, we are given forgiveness. We are strengthened in our faith. We are united in love and communion and we have peace, true peace, peace of sins forgiven. And we leave rejoicing and saying, to God be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.