- Singing the Faith: 695 (CD28 #24)
- Ruth Duck
- “O quanta qualia” trad French adapted Thomas Helmore
Ideas for use
This hymn begins with what may sound like a call to a service of Holy Communion. It isn’t. . . but maybe it should be. Arguably, Ruth Duck’s vision of justice (v.3) and encounter with Christ (v.4) is precisely the hymn we should be singing as we experience the love of God in bread and wine. Christ’s self-giving, “faithful in word and in deed”, invites us to a comparable way of being, and a radical envisioning of what sharing bread and wine can mean. Brian Wren puts it simply:
At the table of the world,
some have plenty, some have none.
At the table of our God,
all are plentifully fed.
Bring Many Names #7 (1989: Stainer & Bell)
By singing this hymn, we may be reminded that Communion is not just about affirming our relationship with Jesus, but at the same time affirming what that relationship signals for God’s vision of the world around us.
It has been pointed out that the use of the tune "O quanta qualia" as a setting for these words takes a little experimentation in order to marry words and tune successfully. The weight of the syllables doesn’t always match that of the tune. Another version of the tune can be found here. The additional notes help Ruth Duck's words sit a little more easily - bearing in mind an unusual emphasis on the closing syllables of lines 2 and 4 in each verse.
Alternatively, in Singing the Faith itself, the tune “Ruddle” (StF 618 – in fact another Ruth Duck hymn) works well with this hymn and would be easy for those new to it to pick up.
“Come, now, you blessed” has at its heart the familiar “parable of the sheep and goats” (Matthew 25: 31-46). However, Ruth Duck is a writer who allows her poetry to circle scripture imaginatively in order to make new connections and shift our perspective. Sometimes, she says, she paraphrases scripture “to lift out key ideas and images of the text in a way that I believe contemporary people will be able to sing in the spirit of prayer.”
That’s exactly what she does here. Ruth begins by evoking the parable of the great banquet (Matthew 22: 1-14; Luke 14: 15-24), and perhaps with an allusion to the incident that precedes Luke’s telling of it. At a meal in the home of one of the leading Pharisees, Jesus notices the guests vying for the best seats, closest to the host. Jesus suggests that a better approach is sit lower down the table, “so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This, like the parable that follows, is an image of how God’s kingdom upturns human expectations and challenges how we should behave. Is Jesus, in Ruth’s opening verse, “the great judge” and are we, like the pharisee and his guests, “the righteous above”, who think ourselves deserving of a prominent place at the table?
The rest of verses 1 and 2 paraphrase what is often known as the parable of the sheep and goats but which is sometimes referred to as “the judgement of the nations”. Here, God’s presence is revealed in the hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick and those in prison. To the question “When did we see you hungry or thirsty. . . What have we done that you call us your own?” (v.2), Ruth interprets Jesus’ response in a way that draws us into the modern world – to “earth’s hungry children” and “war’s refugees”. It is in these situations, in the needs that arise here, that God is to be encountered, for Christ is to be found “on life’s roadways, looking to us in the faces of need” (v.4). Our calling is to respond with the same hospitality and love-in-action that Jesus offered and which we experience in the service of Holy Communion.
Learn more about Ruth Duck in God in all our experience - the hymns of Ruth Duck.