Abide with Me
Henry Lyte, 1793-1847
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, The darkness deepens-—-Lord, with me abide; When other helpers fail, and comforts fee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
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.
Dusk. It speaks of a potentially threatening transition. In the daytime you can see the enemy. At night, who knows what harm lurks in the dark?
As a child regularly attending Sunday evening services, I learned and'liked "Abide with Me." As "the darkness deepened" outside the stained-glass windows, the One "who changest not" would surely stick around. Then there was also the line referring to God as the "Help of the helpless"—which meant the children, of course. Knowing little of consequential "change and decay," I sang a simple song that I later whistled as I walked outside into the dark.
A simple song—-so I thought.
"Abide with Me" takes on new significance when you know the prayer was written the day its author, a fifty-four-year-old clergyman, preached his last sermon, forced into "early retirement" by failing lungs. Doctors told Henry Lyte he faced major transitions. Think death. His one hope for prolonged breath was in leaving the damp English seaside and. moving to the drier Mediterranean climate. Think Rome.
Lyte had pastored the Anglican church in Brixham, England, for twenty-four years. On September 4, 1847, he said farewell. He preached on Luke 24:29, the text of the resurrected Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus; at their request-—-"Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent" (KJV)-—Jesus ate dinner with them. He revealed himself to them. In short, he lingered in their presence.
And the Scripture verse lingered in Lyte's thoughts. Late that afternoon he walked across his garden to the familiar seashore, where the prayer-poem took shape: a request that Christ would stay near through an imminent, difficult night.
Come dusk, Lyte went to his room and wrote out eight stanzas and also a melody, now lost.
Lyte never reached sunny Italy. He died en route in November in Nice, France. His hand reaching toward the sky, he whispered, "Peace, joy," and lost his breath—that last transition seeming as easy as he had hoped-—-as "heaven's morning" broke through.
"Abide with Me." To a child it's a song to whistle in the dark. To someone facing death its prayer requests the Lord to stay near-—-to reveal his changeless self even in the midst of change that marks the ultimate physical decay.
To most of us, living somewhere between the morning and evening of life, the song invites the Lord to walk with us through any number of transitions that prompt us to wonder what awaits us—beyond the change. Our qualms can be calmed in another prayer, spoken by Jesus himself as he faced his earthly farewell. "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (John 14:16 KJV). Here Jesus asks the Father to .send the Spirit—to abide with us disciples-—-forever. And that means through the transition. He abides.
Lord, I need your presence, every hour of every day. I pray that you will dwell with me as I walk through the transitions-—-some as predictable as dusk and some that come by surprise and overwhelm me. In life and when I face death, Lord, abide.
From the book "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence