The events of Holy Week sound the depths of human existence. Helplessness and sacrifice, patience in tribulation, despair and hope, sit side by side.
One poem above all others captures the combination. Henry Francis Lyte wrote it in 1847 and set it to music while he lay dying of tuberculosis.
The poem is Abide With Me. I link to a rendition that served as the centerpiece of the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. Offered as a tribute to those we wish were at our side but are not, choreographed by Akram Khan and set to the voice of Emeli Sande, Khan and Sandé’s interpretation will not soon be forgotten.
No surprise that Abide with Me was one of Mahatma Ghandi’s favorite songs. No surprise that it is said to have been played as the Titanic sunk. No wonder it is sung at funerals and at sporting events in which the limits of human endurance are plumbed.
The events of Holy Week, and this song, belong not just to Christians, but to all humanity. Christians of all people should know this.
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, 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.
Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.
Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, 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.
Supplemental: background and a link to another rendition; cyberhymnal notes; biographical entry for Lyte.