Gospel Poetry at the Table
Celebrating the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis poses quite a few challenges for the minister of the Gospel. Foremost among these challenges is that of keeping the meditations close to the message of the passage upon which you have just finished preaching. Additionally, the minister must strive to keep the observation of the Supper fresh for those who are in regular attendance. Of course, this is not to say that repetition--in and of itself--is a bad thing. Repetition is necessary and useful; however, it can also lead to a staleness if ministers are not laboring in advance to purposefully bring the central message of the Gospel to bear from the text to the table. Thankfully, the church has, at her disposal, quite a remarkable aid to assist in the administration of the Supper--namely, the repository of theologically robust hymns which put Gospel truths into poetic expression for the people of God. I almost certainly end up citing at least one line from a hymn in every worship service when I administer the Supper. It should come as no surprise to us that we find poetic expressions of truth to be quite potent in the way in which they tend to work on our minds and emotions--after all, God has given us poetic genres in Scripture for this very reason. Sinclair Ferguson once explained the interconnectedness of poetic genre and the truth that it was conveying when he said, "In any language with poetry–and certainly in Hebrews poetry in the Old Testament Scriptures–the medium appears to be part of the message." In light of that fact, here are a few ideas about how you can learn to integrate Gospel poetry at the table: 1. Read and sing your way through a trustworthy hymnal on a semi-regular basis. In order to reach for the right verse of a hymn to incorporate at the table you have to know the poetic truth of the hymns in advance. Those of us who grew up in a church that sang hymns certainly have at an advantage. Many did not, however; and have to learn them for the first time as adults. Take time to read through the hymns in the Trinity Hymnal or Hymns of Grace and Glory or Hymns of Grace. You can also find almost all of the hymns in these particular hymnals at Hymnary.org. 2. Learn the great hymns from the history of the church. As we familiarize ourselves with the vast number of hymns of the Christian Church, we begin to find those that particularly speak to our souls of the sufferings of Christ in a powerful way. There are certain hymns that are cherished the most among the people of God. These hymns tend to give the minister the greatest poetic meditations on the sufferings of Christ to bring to the table. Here are a few of those to which I most often turn when I serve the Supper to the people of God: "Man of Sorrows! What a Name" "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" "Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted" "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended" "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood" "Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed" "What Wondrous Love is This?" "Jesus Paid it All" "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross" "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" "I Need Thee Precious Jesus," "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" "Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness" "Guide Me, O, Thou Great Jehovah" "Jesus, I am Resting, Resting" "How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place" 3. Meditate on the intersection of the Gospel and the central truths being communicated from the text. This enables the minister to naturally move from the text to the table. If the passage has spoken of some aspect of depravity, the minister should reiterate the hope that there is through the shedding of the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness and cleansing of sin. If the passage speaks of some aspect of the glories of the incarnation, the minister should emphasize that Christ was incarnate in order to have His body broken apart in judgment in the place of His people. If the passage speaks of the blessings of joy, peace, love, hope, etc., the minister must note that the joy, peace, love and hope are only and ever ours through the sufferings and resurrection victory of Christ. There is no passage in Scripture from which the minister should not make a bee-line to the Gospel. From there, knowing the various lines to the great Gospel-centered hymns becomes the way forward in bringing in the poetic truths of the Gospel at the Supper.