by Jennifer Mehmel
Romans 8: 38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them … remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
ABIDE WITH ME
As a youth, I attended a Christian camp on an island in the northern part of Lake of the Woods, Ontario. I learned canoeing, camping, and tripping skills. I was introduced to C.S. Lewis, and the wonderful stories of Narnia. Like any camp, the evening ended with singing, stories, and skits around a campfire. Every campfire concluded, at camp or on trail, with the singing of Taps, and Abide With Me. Taps made sense. But Abide With Me?? It’s an evening song, yes, but not really the uplifting, praising, nature focused songs of campfire. I was pretty sure I could have done better! And yet….
That song has stayed with me. We often sing it at Wednesday Lenten services, and I look forward to it every year. This Lent, as we find ourselves separated and often alone, I think it carries special meaning.
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.
The simplest of requests, really, to conclude the day: abide with me. Earlier, we praised God for the beauty of our world. Our gratitude for the day was sung. Our prayer requests were lifted up. Then, Taps: “Day is done, gone the sun … all is well, God is nigh.” And, finally, 3 simple words to take us into the darkening hours…. 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.
Change defines our very existence right now. Everything is upended. All our familiar comforts are relegated to an electronic world. Yet we are reminded that the presence of God never changes, whatever our world brings us. 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, oh, abide with me.
We are not alone. We may be socially isolated in our homes, we may be hospitalized and without visitors, we may be out of work, or frightened or scared or exposed to a dangerous virus, but through cloud and sunshine, God’s presence is there. 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!
Our foe today is specific – a virus that threatens our community, our economic survival, and our very lives. We can, we do, we should - pray for the wisdom and courage to defeat this foe. We can, we do, we should – pray for the people hurt by this foe, and those battling it. But win or lose this battle, there is triumph, God’s triumph. 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.
“Heaven’s morning breaks” a beautiful vision, really. Perhaps there was more thought to our closing campfire song than I ever imagined. Surrounded by the beauty of the north woods, songs of joy and praise came easily, and they always will in such settings. Songs of lament rise spontaneously in moments of pain or sorrow. This song resonates in any time or place or situation. It reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God and that God has promised to journey with and among us. There is no social isolation from God. There is no door, no proclamation, no virus that can shut God out. Whatever our circumstances, 3 simple words bring us back to Jesus’ promise of that all encompassing, loving presence: Abide with Me.
Prayer: O God, in these days of uncertainty, we ask for strength for all who are hurting, and for those who care for them. Keep us ever mindful of your promise that your presence is always among and with us. Amen.
Interesting footnote: I discovered the author of this hymn, Henry Lyte, completed it as he was dying of tuberculosis, the pandemic of his time.
Jennifer Mehmel joined St. Michael’s in the early 1980’s. She and her husband, Ex, have 4 sons - the AMEN boys as they’ve been known (Andrew, Matthew, Eric, and Nicholas), a completely unplanned acronym! She is a practicing pediatrician in St. Paul. She enjoys battling the deer to try to garden in the summer and battling the squirrels to feed the birds in the winter. She loves reading, jigsaw puzzles, and soccer, as well as traveling. She will miss their first planned “empty nest” trip this summer to the Tokyo Olympics.