Abide With Me

The 1927 FA Cup final is notable for Cardiff City’s 1-0 victory over Arsenal – the first and only time football’s oldest trophy has left England. But that match was also the first time “Abide with me” was sung at a Wembley final. It has been sung at every cup final ever since. 

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the hymn has a special place in the nation’s psyche. When we went into lockdown, Fergus, our tower captain, turned on the carillon – the device which automatically sounds the bells. So at 9am every morning the church bells have been playing the tune ‘Abide with Me’. This has been picked up on Facebook and lots of people in town have appreciated hearing the tune. 

If only we could play the words to them as well! We do now have a poster outside church with some of the hymn’s words on it – and they express real gospel confidence. I guess that’s why it’s a favourite at funerals:

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.

In the fact, the words emerged out of an encounter with death in 1820, when an Anglican vicar called Henry Lyte had been visiting an old friend who was dying. As he sat with him, the dying man kept repeating the phrase “Abide With Me…” And so the hymn was born.

It reminds me of some of the verses we will be looking at in Philippians in a few weeks time. Paul is imprisoned in chains and he says “to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain”. To die is gain?! What does Paul mean? He goes on: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.

What a contrast with our natural fear of death. It’s so easy to absorb the atmosphere of fear – the atmosfear! – that surrounds us. For most people most of the time the very worst thing that could happen to a person is death. Whereas for Paul, it’s something to look forward to. It’s not that death isn’t a sad thing for those left behind. But for the one who ‘abides with Jesus’ – death is a doorway into an unhindered relationship with the most wonderful person ever. Without Jesus, death really is something to be feared.

So I do pray that we would know a growing confidence in the face of death, as we ‘abide with Jesus’. And that it would be our prayerful desire to see many others grasp that ‘when other helpers fail and comforts flee’, there is only one lasting ‘Helper of the helpless’. And we all – without exception – need his help.

With love in Christ,

Joe

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.

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.

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, Lord, abide with me.

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.

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.

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