Exploring the Organ Prelude — September 6

The organ prelude for this coming Sunday, September 6, is a setting of the hymn, “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart, (Gift of Finest Wheat)” by Ron Schmoltze. This setting is reflective and insightful, using the soft strings of the organ and a rich solo reed for the melody. Far from the typical lively and enthusiastic prelude, this piece is quiet, thoughtful, and meditative. I chose this setting because it shows off the lovely string chorus in the Swell and Choir divisions of our magnificent pipe organ; it is also well-suited for this Communion Sunday.

The refrain of the hymn is emphasized at the beginning of the piece with the left hand, while the flowing eighth-note patterns in the middle section remind me of the sun-kissed, wind-swept wheat across hundreds of acres of farmland. (Can you tell I’m a Nebraska girl?) Towards the end, the beautifully majestic chords crescendo and become richer and thicker in texture, then diminish and conclude gently and quietly.

You Satisfy the Hungry Heart (Gift of Finest Wheat”), written by Omer Westendorf, is in The United Methodist Hymnal on page 629. It is rarely, if ever, sung at First Church; however, it is one of the most beautifully written communion hymns of our faith. It is my hope that one day we can sing it together in worship.

Refrain:
You satisfy the hungry heart
With gift of finest wheat;
Come give to us, O saving Lord,
The bread of life to eat.

Verse 1:
As when the shepherd calls his sheep,
They know and heed his voice;
So when you call your fam’ ly, Lord,
We follow and rejoice.

Verse 2:
With joyful lips we sing to you
Our praise and gratitude,
That you should count us worthy, Lord,
To share this heav’nly food.

Verse 3:
Is not the cup we bless and share
The blood of Christ outpoured?
Do not one cup, one loaf, declare
Our oneness in the Lord?

Verse 4:
The myst’ ry of your presence, Lord,
No mortal tongue can tell:
Whom all the world cannot contain
Comes in our hearts to dwell.

Verse 5:
You give yourself to us, O Lord;
Then selfless let us be,
To serve each other in your name
In truth and charity.

Refrain:

You satisfy the hungry heart
with gift of finest wheat.
Come, give to us, O saving Lord,
the bread of life to eat.

According to Dr. Michael Hawn, writer and former professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology and author of UMC Disciple Ministries, the refrain suggests the agricultural image of “finest wheat,” the source of bread, a primary staple that sustains life. The hymn writer first addresses Christ directly in the second person (“You satisfy the hungry heart”), implying an intimate relationship, and offers a petition to Christ to “Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.” The refrain also echoes John 6:25-37, a passage where Christ develops the imagery of bread and says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger.”

The hymn is replete with biblical references. Stanza one focuses on the metaphor of Christ as shepherd drawn especially from John 10. Stanza three is almost a direct quotation of I Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

The final stanza sites the selfless and self-giving gift of Christ, reminding us of Philippians 2:5-11, a creedal hymn of the early church:  

5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
      he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10 so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hawn says that this hymn integrates beautifully with the actual distribution of the sacrament. The refrain of the hymn is easily committed to memory so that people may sing it as they walk forward. The stanzas are often sung by a cantor or the choir, allowing the individual communicant to come forward to receive the sacrament without carrying a hymnal.

Nathan Benavides, Tenor 1 section leader of FUMCFW Choral Union, will sing this hymn during communion this Sunday, September 6. I invite you to sing along with Nathan on the refrain and consider learning it or singing it as a daily prayer before a meal, or simply any moment of your day.

You satisfy the hungry heart
With gift of finest wheat;
Come give to us, O saving Lord,
The bread of life to eat.


Peggy Graff
Organist and Associate Director of Music & Worship Arts

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