We did sing this particular hymn not long ago, the first time in years, and I noticed a somewhat puzzling phrase in what was our third, and last verse (he originally wrote six verses).
And thus that dark betrayal night
with the last advent we unite,
by one bright chain of loving rite,
until he come.
With what “advent” do we “unite” and how?
An advent is an arrival or a coming. The disciples were told as Jesus ascended, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11. Paul adds in 1 Cor 11:26, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” It is the coming of the Lord that we are speaking of and we are to take the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis until that happens.
Paul says this in a context of unity that begins earlier than chapter 11—we are all one body and therefore we partake of the one bread. If you follow carefully through several chapters, you will see that the “body” we are supposed to be “discerning” is the Lord’s body, the church. We are communing not just with the Lord, but with each other. Why else would it matter that we are to do it “When we are come together?” When we tuck our noses into our navels and ignore one another as the plates are passed, we are missing the point. Taking the Supper should unite us as we consider that we were all sinners and we were all saved by the same sacrifice.
And far more profound is this: we are also connecting with our spiritual ancestors. Each of us, as we take the Lord’s Supper, unite with a long chain of believers, hundreds of thousands—perhaps even millions by this time--in showing our faith that he will indeed come again.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1Thess 4:16-18