We give thanks for the cup of blessing, which is a sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, because we all share that one loaf. [1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (NCV)]
Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord,
And fill to the brim our cup of blessing.
Gather a harvest from the seeds that were sown,
That we may be fed with the bread of life.
Gather the hopes and dreams of all;
Unite them with the prayers we offer now.
Grace our table with Your presence, and give us
A foretaste of the feast to come. [John W Arthur]
When the ushers brought the offering plates forward, the congregation rose and sang “Let the Vineyards be Fruitful.” Often used in Lutheran churches as an offertory hymn when the gifts are presented at the altar, its references to vine, bread, and table make it especially appropriate on Communion Sundays.
As I sung those familiar words about fruitful vineyards, seeds and harvest, I was struck by the somewhat incongruous words in the middle of the song: “Gather the hopes and dreams of all; Unite them with the prayers we offer now.” I envisioned the congregation’s hopes, dreams, needs, and concerns piled high on top of the offering envelopes in those plates and realized we were presenting more than our checks and cash; we were offering our petitions for things like healing, reconciliation, peace, guidance, recovery, relief, purpose, increase, wisdom, strength, and restoration. While the particulars differed from person to person, our various hopes and dreams were being gathered, united into one prayer, and given to God. It wasn’t until I re-read the hymn’s words after church that I understood what that prayer asked or that our words referred both to the day’s simple meal of wafer and wine as well as to the eternal feast at Christ’s return. In our unified prayer, we were asking that Jesus grace us with His presence and give us a preview of the magnificent banquet that is yet to come in the Kingdom of God.
I’ve probably sung the words to this simple hymn hundreds (if not thousands) of times but last Sunday, as those words exited my mouth, they also settled into my heart and mind in a new way. I doubt that I will sing it again without picturing the congregation’s assorted prayers spilling over the sides of the collection plates and then melding into one unified prayer for both His presence and the coming of His Kingdom. Just as reading a book of the Bible once (or even several times) doesn’t mean we’ve fully grasped the meaning of the passages, the same goes for the hymns we sing or the liturgy we recite during worship. When Jesus warned us about meaningless repetition or babbling on in our prayers, repetition wasn’t necessarily the problem. After all, both the persistent neighbor and widow in His parables repeated their pleas and He repeated the same prayer three times in Gethsemane. The problem occurs when we repeat our words mindlessly or automatically. Let us always remember that knowing the words by heart doesn’t necessarily mean our hearts know the depth of their meaning.