Active Mormons hear poetry about the atonement each Sunday in the sacrament hymn, so finding a poem to go with Jacob’s discourse on the atonement in 2 Nephi 9 isn’t too much of a burden. The hard part is finding something that isn’t already well known and is unique to Mormonism, which I’ve generally tried to do in this series.
There are 28 sacrament hymns in the current hymnal, most of which are probably familiar. However, there have been a number of other sacrament hymns that are no longer in our current hymnal. Most of those are not by Mormons. And, while I have not been able to identify the author of this hymn, I have so far only found it in Mormon hymnals, starting with the Manchester Hymnal put together by Brigham Young, John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt in 1840.
As far as I can tell, it was eliminated from LDS Hymnals in the early 20th century, but I don’t know why. It feels to me a little more graphic than other sacrament hymns, but I haven’t read it in comparison to them, so I can’t exactly say. In addition, some of the imagery seems more protestant than we have in other hymns — the image of meeting at the table, and calling the sacrament the “marriage-supper of the Lamb” are unusual in LDS symbolism, in my experience.
1. ‘Twas on that dark, that solemn night,
When powers of death and hell arose,
Against the Son, e’en God’s delight,
And friends betrayed him to his foes:
2. Before the mournful scene began,
He took the bread, and blessed, and brake;
What love through all his actions ran!
What wondrous words of grace he spake!
3. “This is my body broke for sin,
Receive and eat the living food:”
Then took the cup, and blessed the wine,
“Tis the new cov’nant of my blood.”
4. For us his flesh with nails was torn,
He bore the scourge, he felt the thorn;
And justice poured upon his head,
Its heavy vengeance in our stead.
5. For us his precious blood was spilt,
To purchase pardon for our guilt:
When for our sins, he suffering dies,
And gave his life a sacrifice.
6. “Do this” he cried, “till time shall end,
In memory of your dying friend;
Meet at my table, and record
The love of your departed Lord.”
7. Jesus, thy feast we celebrate,
We show thy death, we sing thy name,
Till thou return, and we shall eat
The marriage-supper of the Lamb.
Of course, there are also at least 28 other sacrament hymns that include imagery that speaks of the atonement. I’m sure there are also many more recent poems (undoubtedly some that aren’t hymns at all) that use this imagery.
Still, I would have thought there would be more than I found — it almost makes me wonder if the subject of the atonement is so intimidating that artists shy away from it. If true, I have to admit that I understand that feeling.