Hymn of the Week: August 8
by the Rev. Brooke Myers
Proper 14, Year B
August 8, 2021
Hymn 335: I Am the Bread of Life
When Sr. Suzanne Toolan, an American Roman Catholic nun and teacher, wrote I Am the Bread of Life in 1964 she was not happy with it, so she tore it up and threw it away. A student who had heard the song and who saw Sr. Toolan put it in the trash, retrieved it, taped it back together, and returned it urging the composer to keep it. Two years later she submitted the hymn to the Archdiocese of San Francisco for use in a requiem mass. It soon became popular in Catholic parishes, and its use spread rapidly around the world. The Episcopal Church published the song in a hymnal supplement in 1980, and then included it in the Hymnal 1982. More than any other piece of music, I Am the Bread of Life has been an anthem for the Charismatic Renewal movement within the Episcopal Church for over forty years.
The text is unique in our Hymnal in that it consists mainly of the words of Jesus; Sr. Toolan didn’t write the text so much as adapt it. Verses 1-4 and the refrain are directly lifted from John 6 (the Gospel for this coming Sunday); verse 5 quotes Jesus’ friend and Lazarus’ sister, Martha, in chapter 11. It is especially appropriate for celebrations of the Eucharist and for funerals.
In spite of the tune’s octave-and-a-half range, its simple chord structure makes it fun and easy to sing, and suitable for guitar accompaniment. The rousing refrain often moves Christians of all stripes to raise their hands (though “I will raise them up” refers to believers, not hands).
A web search of I Am the Bread of Life will find the lyrics and several performances, including this one from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salem, Oregon: