05. December 2012
Advent Midweek 1
This season of Advent we are considering the hymn “Abide With Me” for our midweek meditations. This hymn is a favorite of many and yet also unknown by many. In our hymnal it is prescribed to be sung at close of day. Our agenda also prescribes the hymn’s first and last stanzas to be sung at the committal at every funeral. It is an evening hymn, a funeral hymn, and much more. It resonates with the anxieties and fears of the evening. It speaks with those who are older and face death. It even speaks to the young who yearn to be with Christ.
This hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte of Brixham, Devonshire, England. As is often the case with our hymns, “Abide With Me” was written in the midst of suffering. Pastor Lyte was frail and dying from tuberculosis. Three weeks before he died, he composed this hymn. His poetry is written to bring comfort to his own fears but also to comfort his beloved people for whom he had provided our Lord’s pastoral care.
The text for Pastor Lyte comes from the Emmaus story of Easter evening. You recall that the same day Jesus rose from the dead, He met two people on the road both grieving and in sorry. Jesus walks with this father and son, possibly his own uncle and cousin. The story of Emmaus is about seeing Christ for the first time. Everything they had come to think of Jesus needed to be seen from a new perspective.
Jesus’ story is a repetition of the whole Gospel journey. He rehearses for them everything happened in Jerusalem. He opens to them the Old Testament to show why He came into this world. This story brings the two great comfort. They plead with Jesus to not go any further. While they don’t recognize Him yet, they yearn and long to be with Christ and dwell with Him.
When we are looking for the presence of Christ? It’s probably when we dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. What are we looking for when the darkness deepens? There is a similar wanting and desire in us. We need to be close to God. This desire is built into us. We desire our Lord to be present, to abide with us, to join us into communion, to remain with us, and to be with us forever.
These desires are especially felt when we’re in darkness. “As for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.” We only lose our step and stumble when we’re walking in the dark. Asaph, one of David’s tabernacle song leaders, tells us about his darkness. He was envious of the prosperity of the wicked. When he looks at them, he thinks that they have no troubles.
When we consider ourselves according to others we’re in the dark. Our worth and value are not judged based on our prosperity, our pride, our abundance, our ease, or riches. If we judge ourselves by this standard, we are in the dark. These things all wither and fade. They come and they go. Even the rich will ultimately face death. No amount of strength can overcome a life that will pass away.
We need life that will never pass away. No other comfort can do. We are helpless. We need comfort. This is especially true in the evening and when we are dying. All other helpers and comforts flee and fail. Everyone is looking for someone or something to fill the loneliness that we all feel. Our spouses, children, friends sometimes help but ultimately only Christ can do. We are totally broken and in need of Christ. Nothing in this world abides like Christ. Only Christ can abide forever, giving us peace that passes all understanding. He can fill us in a way that only God can fill. The Emmaus disciples knew that Jesus could fill their every longing. As Asaph sang, “Nevertheless, I am continually with You, You hold me by my right hand, You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory.”
We live in a suffering world. The decay of this world is seen in our brokenness of sin, the attacks of the devil, and all the difficulties of this world. When its dark, night, or near death, our defenses are broken down and we get overwhelmed by the darkness. Even earth’s joys grow dim and pass away. Everything is changing and is in flux. This is why we want to abide with the changeless one, Jesus. We look for the one who is faithful.
The truth is that we don’t have the luxury of time anymore. The clock is ticking. Especially as we age, we savor every moment not knowing how many more there are. As you see your children grow and grandchildren born, you see yourself in them both good and bad. We become more conscious of our mortality, our brokenness, and our sin. We live in a fleeting world where our lives are but a blip on the timeline. We sometimes think we’re so important because we are the center of our own existence. When you look in the big picture we are only a small part. We are held to our own sense of brevity, the larger cosmic plan of God.
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… It is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all your works.”
The fact that God doesn’t change is a source of comfort. The Biblical view of Christ acting in mercy comforts us. The mercy of the Lord endures forever. He gives forgiveness. We sheds His blood. He is love. Even before the foundation of the world, the Lamb was slain. The plan has remained unchanged. God’s promised mercy is given. It is for you. Broken people. Lonely. Melancholy. We don’t know what to do when we get this way. Earth’s comforts fail. Our pleasures flee. We need something bigger. Greater.
Jesus works through timeless Word bound to timely means. The Word of God endures forever. Everywhere the Word leaves its mark endures forever. Your baptism endures forever. We long for these sure promises that never change. Jesus, yesterday, the same, and forever. He promised to come. He promised to die. He promised to have His blood cleanse, wash, and forgive us. He feeds you with the Lord’s Supper. This is heavenly food and eternal.
That is why “Abide with Me” is fitting for evening and funerals. It confesses our own want for communion and the longing to dwell with Jesus. It also leads us on a pilgrimage of comfort. We are searching for the holiness only God can give. We find this rest in Jesus.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church