LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER                                        written in 1925

The Story

Some say this old spiritual song, dating back to the 18th-century, was the password used by slaves to allow entrance into secret, forbidden worship meetings in Virginia. Originally, the first line was evidently, “Let us praise God together on our knees”. The song is now used to call Christians to gather and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Other stanzas have been added by oral tradition. A look through modern hymnals will reveal an array of variations on the text. The song’s use at communion services probably dates from after the American Civil War.

The text of the version we sing today was first published in The Journal of American Folklore (1925). The Journal included spirituals, as well as African American folk tales and proverbs that were collected by students at the Penn School on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina.

A second version appeared in Saint Helena Island Spirituals (1925) by Nicholas Ballanta, a very significant collection that included 103 Gullah spirituals. This version incorporates the same basic text, but with variations based on the slave dialect of the region:

“Let us break bread togedduh on our knees…
When I fall on muh knees wid muh face to de risin’ sun
Oh, Lawd, hab mercy on me.”

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – celebrate the fellowship you have with other believers.

Let us break bread together on our knees, (on our knees)
let us break bread together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me. (on me)

Let us drink wine together on our knees, (on our knees)
let us drink wine together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me. (on me)

Let us praise God together on our knees, (on our knees)
let us praise God together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy on me. (on me)

Let us praise God together on our knees, (on our knees)
let us praise God together on our knees. (on our knees)
When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun,
O Lord, have mercy if you please. (if you please)

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