Updated: May 2
Norwegian: O bli hos meg
Text: Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847) Tune: William Henry Monk (1823-1889)
1. Abide with me! fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide! When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
3. I need Thy presence every passing hour: What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power? Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, oh, abide with me. 4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless: Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness: Where is death’s sting? where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
5. 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. MEDITATION
Given all its many associations with the funerals of loved ones, it is hard to hear this hymn without tears. We may have sung it with the deceased; it fills us with memories of the deepest kind.
It is also an Easter song as it comes from the day of Resurrection. “Abide with us” the Emmaus couple implores Jesus, on that first Easter evening. They do not know who he is, but they feel, as their hearts burn within them, Jesus is significant. He abides with them for the meal. They do not know him until he breaks the bread and then they recognize him. He disappears from their sight. The two run to tell the disciples gathered in Jerusalem that Christ is risen indeed. They see because their eyes have been opened to see. Now they understand, even though Jesus is gone. Seeing is not believing. Believing that he is here with us when we cannot see him is faith.
Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), an Anglican minister, who wrote this classic hymn in the 1820s, suffered poor health his entire life. He knew his need for the Lord every minute of the day. It is said he wrote this hymn after attending a dying friend who kept repeating, Abide with me, abide with me.
The prayer of the Emmaus duo became Lyte’s, as it is ours. As we have learned during the shut down, we need someone to be with us. Especially the Lord. There is considerable talk now about the suffering of people, especially those alone, some of whom are being driven crazy by their isolation. They long to be out and about, to meet other people, to enjoy the fellowship of the congregation. Some say the situation is dire. These folk need help now. They will maybe need it in the future, like treatment for PTSD some psychologists think.
“I need thy presence every passing hour.” One of the hardest parts of the isolation is that we know Christ best when we are with others, “where two or three are gathered in his name.” That is one reason we are missing our gatherings around the Word so much. He is present when we gather. Can he be with me when I am alone? Abide with me, Lyte has us sing. Those who are completely isolated can draw comfort from the prayer of the hymn. Jesus always comes to those who ask, whether they know it or not.
The Emmaus couple sees something that is true when they glimpse Jesus. A truth that has always been there: another dimension. The veil for a brief moment is lifted and they see Jesus. And then he vanishes. It does not say he vanished from them, but he vanished from their sight.
Sometimes, like in these strange days, we need to pray fervently for Christ to abide with us, even when we know he has promised to abide with us. Our faith can grow weak; we need assurance again and again that he is here. This hymn helps us pray for his constant presence, through all our isolation, through our trials and tribulations, and especially as we are dying. No wonder when we hear the hymn, we feel the tears well up in us as we pray again, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.”
The writer of the tune, Eventide, William Henry Monk (1823-1889), organist, composer and choir master in England’s most prestigious posts, edited one of the most famous English hymnals of all time, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). The hymn has gone around the world. It is considered one of the patriotic hymns of England. It became especially important during World War I. Remembrance Day commemorating the tragic losses of the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli, always featured a moving rendition of the hymn. One can hear it in grand highly liturgical services, to folk and rock concerts. Even Elton John sang it in a concert! It is the anthem sung at the Rugby Challenge Cup. I have included a variety of versions here.
LINKS St. Olaf Cantorei and Congregation https://youtu.be/kkXI-8no9ZE
Australian /Nathan Lay solo https://youtu.be/32eP-mjRINo
Band version at the Anzac Remembrance Day https://youtu.be/a7FUcu5OD3Y
Ole Paus/Norway’s Bob Dylan https://youtu.be/ms7lODbNdm0
Thelonius Monk https://youtu.be/RHctGCUS2fE
Rugby Challenge https://youtu.be/fg3gCw5mm7c