“Again, our dear redeeming Lord.”
From its very first word, this hymn highlights the repetitive nature of the sacrament. Here we are. Again. The priests offer the same prayer, the bishop gives the same nod, the same deacons exchange the same confused glances, your toddler takes the same fistful of bread. You repeat your tired attempt to focus on Jesus and your distracted observation of fellow congregants. You eat the same bread, you drink the same water, seated next to the same people. You’ve done this a million times, and you’ll do it a million more.
Why? What is so valuable about repetition, and what is the benefit of doing something “again?” On the one hand, by opening with the word “again,” this becomes a hymn of familiarity. The repetition grants the sacrament a sense of intimacy. Because we know these symbols inside and out, because we know what’s coming, the sacrament is “comfortable”—able, quite literally, to give comfort. Repetition also reminds us what is important by making sure it takes up a consistent and recurrent place in our lives; it orients and re-orients us toward things of value.
But repetition is more than a feature of just the sacrament; it’s a feature of life itself. Every day you: shower, eat breakfast, do the dishes, fix your hair, button your shirt, make your bed, yawn, stretch, and walk the dog. The gospel recognizes this. Repetition is, in some ways, the heart of this religion. You read your scriptures this morning? Good. Do it again tomorrow. You prayed with your family over lunch? Good. Do it again over dinner. You’ve been to the temple already? Good. Do it again. You completed your visiting teaching? Donated a generous fast? Helped a ward member load a moving van? Good. Do it again and again and again. To live is to repeat; thus, what we choose to repeat determines what we choose to live.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
So here we are, again, at the sacrament table. If we attend in repeated patience, looking for comfort rather than entertainment, embracing the banality as a grace instead of resenting its tedium, we shouldn’t be surprised to find “the Spirit kindle[d] like a flame” or “our hearts … renewed in faith and covenant.” There is a purification that comes only through repetition, and in time the repetition itself can become a kind of lived prayer: “Again, our dear redeeming Lord.” Again.