Friday, April 4, 2008

Abide with Me

I think every person’s prayer life is different, but I have often felt closer to God in the evening and night. I appreciate the opportunities we have in Lent and Advent to worship using different forms of evening prayer, which often include hymns appropriate for the closing of the day. One that we sang several times this past Lent has “stuck” with me: Abide with Me (#272 in the Lutheran Book of Worship). Both the tune and text bring peace to my soul.

On September 4, 1847, Henry Francis Lyte, whose health had been undermined, preached a farewell sermon to his congregation at Brixham, South Devonshire, England. After holding other pastorates, this man had devoted himself for a quarter of a century to the pastoral care of uncultured but warm-hearted seamen and had gained their love and confidence in a high degree. He visited the fishermen and sailors, both on the ships and in their huts. He provided every outgoing ship with a Bible.

Toward evening of the day when he preached his farewell sermon, he went down the garden path to view the setting of the sun over Brixham harbor. While this lovely scene of nature was before his eyes, the pastor in a long, fervent prayer, as he later told his family, asked his God for ability to write a hymn that might comfort his survivors. No sooner had the sun gone down than he returned to his study, as his children thought, to rest.

But an hour later the door opened, and the pastor came forth with the manuscript of the immortal hymn he had just written:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fall and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

The final stanza is the prayer:

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

This Easter season, we celebrate the fact that the Lord does abide with us in the joys and trials of our life, and that he will not abandon us at our time of death, our hour of greatest need. Certainly our congregation has had our share of deaths recently, but because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can pray with confidence in the words of St. Paul, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” When Martin Luther’s beloved 14-year-old daughter lay deathly ill, her father prayed: “Lord, I love her very much and should like to keep her, but, dear Lord, since it is Thy will to take her away, I am glad to know that she will be with Thee.”

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

That's really nice- I enjoyed reading it- and Bob Cat did, too.