Behold the lamb who bears our sins away

A chalice (shared cup) and paten (plate for the broken bread)

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Behold the lamb who bears our sins away” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend. Unlike many of their hymns, this is a straightforward four-verse hymn with no chorus or bridge. The opening words are of course from the traditional communion prayer “Agnus Dei” (O Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us).

The repeated words common across the four verses are ‘remember’ and ‘share’.  This is significant, because firstly in the communion we remember what Jesus has done for us: “we remember the promise made that all who come to faith find forgiveness at the cross … remember the wounds that heal, the death that brings us life … remember he drained death’s cup that all may enter in … remember our call to follow in the steps of Christ as his body here on earth”.

Secondly we share in the broken bread: communion by one person alone is not normally allowed (although in the Catholic church the priest can say mass alone on behalf of others in certain circumstances).  The chorus of the first three verses is “So we share in this bread of life, and we drink of his sacrifice, as a sign of our bonds … around the table of the King”.  But the ellipsis there represents differing phrases: the sharing is as a sign “of our bonds of peace”, “of our bonds of love”, “of our bonds of grace”. The fourth chorus is different, looking to Christ’s coming again.

The communion is a time to remember the past but also to acknowledge our shared life in Christ and to commit ourselves again to following him “until he comes again”.

2 thoughts on “Behold the lamb who bears our sins away”

  1. Actually this hymn does have a chorus: the second half of each verse (as Stephen points out further down the post) is a chorus, except that in verse 4 this is varied – because at this stage the hymn has moved on to the “and we go out” bit rather than the “and we share the bread and wine” bit of the service.

    This is a hymn that I have used quite a number of times at St Luke’s Eccleshill, mostly during the sharing of the bread and wine in the more informal of the services, at which lay people gave the elements leaving me to play the piano and sing with the rest of the music group (for some of them often gave out the elements). And I think it is very effective at what it does – particularly as every point it is keen to point us back to Jesus rather than just to the bread and wine which remind us of him. But to sing it properly the singers do need to remember to take big breaths so as to be able to sing through the longer sentences which cross the ends of the lines.

    I prefer to think that the opening words come from John 1:29 rather than from the “Agnus Dei” prayer. After all, the petition “have mercy on us” isn’t in the text of the hymn. In fact the whole hymn is addressed to our fellow-worshippers rather than to God – it isn’t a prayer but rather an exhortation / reflection.

    Like quite a few of the Getty / Townend hymns, the weakest aspect (in my view) is the writing of the harmony and bass in the opening moments of the hymn. I wish I could put my finger on exactly how to rearrange the music so as to make these beginnings stronger and more convincing.

    1. Good points, John, especially about the influence probably being the baptism of Jesus.

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