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Disentangling (and reclaiming) the hymns of the Lord’s Table

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This is post #5 in a blog series entitled Come to the Table: A Blog Series About the Lord’s Table Ordinance. This blog series will be more memoir than instructional guide. I’m not a theologian. I’m a daughter of God who has learned that she is welcome at the Lord’s Table. This process of learning – and accepting – these truths is what I hope to share with all of you. This post discusses the hymns that have drawn me to the Lord’s Table.

As I go through this series, I continually mention my new(ish) role as our church pianist (since January of 2021). I mention this not as a point of pride, but because functioning in this role has been incredibly healing for me. It has also been hugely instrumental in re-building up my faith after a period of “deconstruction.” The word “deconstruction” has come to mean so many things – and negative things – to so many within Christianity and evangelicalism, and it’s a word I don’t love to use. I am using it here in order to link to a prior post. I think that a better word is perhaps “disentangling.” It’s a book that Jinger {Duggar} Vuolo used a lot in her book, Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear. I love this word “disentangling,” because it really captures the painstaking and often confusing process that so many like myself have gone through. “Deconstruction” (particularly WITHOUT any “reconstruction”) can carry a context of demolition or destruction. No one really “deconstructs” a building. You use a sledge hammer or a wrecking ball. Rather, disentagling involves separating one thing from another, one thread from another. It involves pulling a thread to see where it goes. It involves pulling threads out of knots. Sometimes, before you finally get something fully untangled, you end up pulling a thread and creating a knot that was never there, that then you have to work out. But enough with the metaphors, because that’s not ultimately what this post is about. This post is about hymns.

Hymns and Guilt

Those who have followed my blog for a longer period of time may remember that there’s a lot of guilt for me wrapped up in hymns. For a long time, I found myself “triggered” by certain hymns.

By my own admission, I am a recovering people pleaserperfectionist, and legalist. I know all about the try-hard-and-then-try-harder-some-more life. High goals and expectations of myself were the only way I knew how to live, and worse – I was misguided in thinking that living that way the only way possible to please God.

I was the honor roll student. The first place spelling champion. The first place musician. The cream of the crop.

The songs I sang week-in, week-out only reinforced this way of life and piled on the guilt when I lived any less than my best.

~Guilt-inducing hymns, the try-hard life, and recovery

Nearly every Sunday morning I sit down in the pews of our church with ease, knowing that I am safe and loved. But that doesn’t keep me from sometimes being blindsided with songs, Christian jargon, and even Bible verses that I find to be triggers to some of the darker days of my spiritual past. Dealing with triggers in church is common for survivors of spiritual abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse – or worse: some twisted combination of all of these.

~How to deal with spiritual abuse triggers at church

Particularly in regard to hymns, the triggers were as varied as the hymns themselves.

A hymn might remind me of a place I wanted to forget. The hymn Have Thine Own Way, Lord would take me back to Bible College #3 where that song was played on the organ as the invitational for every. single. church and chapel and special service. It made me feel nauseated.

A hymn might remind me of a ritual or ordinance, such as the squeamish feelings I associated with the Lord’s Table whenever I heard There is a Fountain or Nothing But the Blood of Jesus.

Or the hymn To God Be the Glory…

My pastor’s wife stood up and asked if we could sing “To God be the Glory.” She looked at me, and I think even asked, as though feeling out… “Is this okay?” 

I had a moment where everything inside me wanted to scream, “Any song but that one…oh, except for Victory in Jesus…cuz that’s like…the worst!” 

Honestly, it’s not so much that I have anything against the song. It’s just a trigger because I sang/played it nearly weekly at the church I attended in high school. It was overdone, overused…and lost all meaning other than to remind me of a time in my life that I often wish I could forget.

But I had a choice…

Run or reframe.

I chose the latter. And there, surrounded by women in blue jeans…women who are willing to pray with me on bathroom floors…I knew I would be okay. I was in a safe place with safe people. And it was enough.

“To God be the Glory” will never be my favorite song. But at least now, I have a different memory attached to it.

Hymns and Growth

A few days ago, my mom told me she had seen a lot of growth in me, particularly over the last few years. And she’s right.

We like to think about how sunshine and fresh air makes plants grow, but resistance (wind and rain) are just as crucial for plants to grow hearty and strong. A hymn is like wind for me.

Our music director / worship leader stepped into her role a few years before I stepped into the role of church pianist. The collaborative relationship we share is incredibly unique and precious to both of us. While she is about six months younger than I, I very much consider her to be an older sister in the faith and in music.

She is passionate about hymns, especially old hymns that are full of great doctrine that we tend to miss in some of the more contemporary music popular in churches. But she is also FOR me and my spiritual growth. As she has continued to add modern and contemporary arrangements of hymns into our service repoitoire, she hasn’t dragged me along by the hair. She has been thoughtful and understanding, and often has sent me arrangements before purchasing them. I know that much of this has more to do with my thoughts on the composition itself and my ability to learn it, but there’s a thoughtfulness that sets me at ease – even as I look upon an arrangement of a hymn and fight those triggering instincts.

I still remember where I was standing in my house, swiffing the dining room floor, when she sent me a Lifeway Worship arrangement of The Solid Rock. While this particular hymn has ALWAYS been a huge favorite of mine, and never a trigger, I still teared up while listening to it.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

It meant more to me then because I had embraced a fuller understanding of what those words meant: that I AM righteous because of the work of Jesus.

Which brings us back to the Lord’s Table…

Hymns and Grace

I could fill many posts of hymn after hymn that we have added into our service rotation that I’ve been able to untangle from the triggers and embrace in freedom and grace. But in particular, I want to highlight a few that have been extra special because we have used them in Lord’s Table services.

The first is the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This particular Lifeway arrangement begins with a guitar introduction (which I try poorly to mimic on the piano). The arrangement is both somber and powerful, although we tend to take it slower and perhaps even more somber than they do on the recording.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

The song ends with a dramatic hold on the words, “Love so amazing, so divine…” and then returns to softness in the words, “Demands my soul, my life, my all.” 

Disentangling (and reclaiming) the hymns of the Lord's Table
When I Survey – Hymn Digital Print

I admit, as much as I loved the arrangement when I first began playing it, I struggled with those last lines – particularly that word DEMAND. In a way, it went against what I now understand about God and what He did for me:

“God does not operate in a quid pro quo universe. You are not in debt to God.” (Rich Powell – 9/10/17)

Forgiveness is the release of a debt – payment is no longer required. If I have been forgiven, I owed a debt that has now been absorbed (propitiation) by the one who has forgiven me. Sin is no longer credited to my account – it is not held against me. God has paid my ransom (redemption). 2 Corinthians 5:19 is an amazing verse that ties this all together! “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” We have an amazing God who stands ready to forgive because the debt has been paid by the propitiation and redemption that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross.

~7 WORDS that can CHANGE YOUR LIFE: Realize the Purpose for Which You Were Designed (p. 51).

These words, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all,” can be misunderstood as one being in debt – a debt we have to pay back out of our own human effort. In the context of the Lord’s Table, it can seem like a call to “make sure you feel bad enough” (Jen Wilkin) about Christ’s sacrifice. Or, as Jinger Vuolo put it so well in her book, “I used to think of Communion as an act of accountability. I thought God gave it to Christians like me to make sure we weren’t sinning too much.”

If this isn’t the case – that the Lord’s Table isn’t about me feeling bad enough, then what is the DEMAND? If I am not in debt to God, then what DOES He demand of me? I believe that is answered in the phrase that my pastor so often uses for what others might call “saving faith.”

When a human encounters and submits to God’s self-disclosure, I call it “surrendered trust.” Truly, the only appropriate response to sovereignty is surrender. 

~7 WORDS that can CHANGE YOUR LIFE: Realize the Purpose for Which You Were Designed (p. 52).

Unlike the demand to work off a debt, “This surrendered trust also requires a release of my own attempts at redemption – attempts to appease the divine or show myself righteous before others. . .

God’s righteousness cannot be humanly achieved. My own goodness is an inadequate object of trust. I need the righteousness that must be credited through surrendered trust in the God who alone is worthy of such trust.”

My husband has often likened this “surrendered trust” to jumping into a river of God’s grace. Your only act is to jump – to wholly give your soul, your life, your all – to the river, trusting that it will take you the right direction. It’s a surrender that holds nothing back. And it’s a release, rather than a burden.


Continuing upon this theme of debt and surrender, another song comes to mind that we introduced on Resurrection Sunday, 2021. I’m not sure if we have ever actually sung this for a Lord’s Table service, but Resurrection Sunday is definitely a time when our thoughts are turned toward the Cross (and the Resurrection) on a deeper level. This particular arrangement from Sovereign Grace changes some of the lyrics and adds a new chorus:

Turn your eyes to the hillside
Where justice and mercy embraced
There the Son of God gave His life for us
And our measureless debt was erased!

Disentangling (and reclaiming) the hymns of the Lord's Table
Photo Credit: Grace Bible Church

These beautiful words capture so much…justice and mercy embracing, and our measureless debt being erased.

When I surrender myself in faith to Christ, then his righteousness is credited to me, and then I become justified before God. The basis of this justification is propitiation and redemption through Jesus. Christ is mediator, in that as the God-man absorbed the judgment of God on the cross, he represented mankind. My lack of righteousness, my evil, and my sinfulness put Christ on the cross to experience the wrath of God – for me. He acted in my place. But as mediator between God and man, he also represented God to man, conveying God’s pardoning grace. Not only was it my sin that put Jesus on the cross, but it was also God’s holiness, justice, love, and mercy. God’s grace put Jesus there.

~7 WORDS that can CHANGE YOUR LIFE: Realize the Purpose for Which You Were Designed (pp. 58-59).

Jesus, to You we lift our eyes
Jesus, our glory and our prize
We adore You, behold You, our Savior ever true
Oh Jesus, we turn our eyes to You

When I began to have this perspective shift – AWAY from my being in debt to God and TO praising God for the righteousness He has given to me – I found it so much easier to view the Lord’s Table as a celebration instead of a risky game of Russian roulette.

This uncertainty could be overwhelming on Sunday mornings when our church took Communion. This part of Christian worship is an opportunity to remember what the Lord did for sinners on the cross. It’s meant to bring joy to every believer. When Christians drink the cup and eat the bread, the Bible says they “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Taking Communion is serious, but it’s also a celebration. Yet most Sunday mornings, I didn’t see it that way. I thought of it more as a game of Russian roulette. I was convinced that if I took Communion with some unconfessed sin I didn’t know about, then God would punish me, possibly with death.

Before taking Communion, I’d rack my brain, trying to think of anything I could have said or done that might require an apology or confession. Even if I couldn’t think of anything, I still wouldn’t take Communion if I thought there might be the smallest possibility I was forgetting a sin.

This is an unhealthy view because it assumes that God wants to punish me—and that it’s my responsibility to avoid that punishment. But for the person whose faith is in Jesus, the Bible says the opposite is true. Psalm 103:12 promises, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does [God] remove our transgressions from us.”

~Vuolo, Jinger. Becoming Free Indeed (pp. 50-51). 

Hymns and Gratitude

As my fingers have learned countless (okay, it’s 30, not countless) new accompaniments of hymns I’ve known from my childhood, my heart has been disentangling them from the meanings ascribed to them in legalistic environments. The words have washed over me afresh and given me a new perspective – a perspective of gratitude:

Gratitude for what Christ has done for me…

gratitude for a true understanding of God’s grace…

gratitude that I am no longer in debt to God…

gratitude to be in a place and working with a worship leader that still sees immense value in the hymns of old…

gratitude for music arrangers such as Dan Kreider at Grace Music and the team at Lifeway Worship who rebirth these old songs into a thing of beauty…

gratitude for the gift God has given me to be able to play the piano and worship Him in this way…

…and gratitude for the frequent reminder in the Lord’s Table of all of these things.

Disentangling (and reclaiming) the hymns of the Lord's Table | As my fingers have learned new accompaniments of hymns I've known from my childhood, my heart has been disentangling them from the meanings ascribed to them in legalistic environments. The words have washed over me afresh and given me a new perspective - a perspective of gratitude.
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