Sing along

It was in the evening of their last day together when Jesus said to the disciples, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.” He knew he was facing betrayal, arrest, and death, but he was completely at peace; and not just that, his greatest concern was for his friends.

“Little children, I am with you only a little longer.” I imagine each of them instantly felt their stomachs tensing up. “Lord, where are you going?” Peter asked. Little children the Lord had called them, and that’s how they must have felt. “Why can’t we come with you?” the little ones ask and, “When will you be back? What are we supposed to do without you? Why don’t you stay?”

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus told them. “I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am you may be also.” And he went on like this for four long chapters, telling his disciples everything they needed to know before he left them. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he promised. But he also told us that we would be the responsible ones now, that he trusted us to carry on in his name. And it did occur to him that the little children, as he lovingly called us, were not at all excited about the prospect of having the entire house to ourselves with no one around to tell us what to do. He knew that there would be times when we would not feel quite grown-up enough for the responsibility we were given, when we would feel abandoned, desolate, vulnerable, frightened—in a word, orphaned. He knew that there would be moments when our hearts would be troubled and we would worry about what would become of us and the church and the world. He knew of those moments when the darkness creeps in and we’re frightened and our little brothers and sisters look to us for a story to comfort them or a brave song that will keep the monsters from coming through the closet door.

When I was little, I used to sing all the way down to the basement where my Mom had sent me to go fetch something for her - and I ran up the stairs on my way back. And it wasn’t youthful exuberance or excess energy that made me leap up those stairs – I couldn’t get away fast enough from the darkness at the bottom of the steps. Things were much more difficult for Caroline, a colleague of mine. She was the bravest little girl when she started school, but when she was eight or nine years old, the darkness began to frighten her. She had a very active imagination that kicked in at night time. She would lay in her bed and imagine all kinds of scary things that might happen after dark. There were the strange shadows cast on the bedroom ceiling and walls by creepy creatures lurking outside her window. There were the monsters in the closet and under the bed, monsters she couldn’t see, but she could feel them just like the dangerous intruders that were hiding behind the curtain. She had a hard time going to sleep because the only way she knew how to guard against the scary unknown was to sit up all night and keep a lookout. Eventually, her mother would come sit with her until she could fall asleep. Over time, she became less afraid of going to sleep at night, but only if her mom was in the room with her.[1]

You have your own memories of moments like that when you were little, or when your own children created night time rituals that helped them feel safe.

“Please leave the door open.”

“Can you and dad talk so I can hear you?”

“Don’t turn off the light in the hallway.”

“Just hold my hand.”

And it’s not just when we’re little; it’s anytime the unknown threatens to overwhelm us. It takes a lifetime of practice to let evening come as described by Jane Kenyon in her poem of that title.

Let Evening Come

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing  
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned  
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den. 
Let the wind die down. Let the shed  
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop  
in the oats, to air in the lung  
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t  
be afraid. God does not leave us  
comfortless, so let evening come.[2]

The setting sun, the moon and stars, the world outside, the house, and finally as close as the air in the lung. Let evening come. Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid.

Jane Kenyon died of leukemia when she was only 47. Her words echo the gospel. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Let evening come. Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Let evening come. I will not leave you comfortless, so let evening come. Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. It takes a lifetime of practice to let evening come, as it will.

Abide with me, we sing.

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.[3]

I don’t remember what came first, the song or the deep trust in the love that holds us and all things; the two go hand in hand. We sing against the fear, and we let evening come, as it will, and we lean into the promise. On the border where life’s little day turns into night we learn to let go, ready to receive the new life of a day without end. The darkness of the unknown is illumined by the promise that we will not be orphaned.

Jesus spoke very kindly with his friends on the eve of his betrayal and arrest. He assured them, he assured us that his presence with us would not end but change. He wasn’t going away, but rather ahead of us. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said. “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Jesus is going ahead of us to make tomorrow a homecoming. He is going ahead of us, and we can continue to follow him by loving one another as he has loved us. We can continue to follow him because he is present with us in a new way: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Spirit of comfort and courage has been sent among us so we don’t worry about the darkness but live to witness to the light that shines in it. The Holy Spirit has been given to us and so we’re the responsible ones now, the ones Christ has trusted to carry on in his name and embody his love in the world.

He has every confidence we can do it. But that doesn’t mean we wont’ fret about it. There’s so much to do, and we already have so many things to do, and how much more can we do, and do we really have all it takes to do all that? We are quick to think about doing, because we’re used to doing, and we miss that Christ doesn’t just send us to work. Christ calls us to live more fully in the peace he gives. Christ draws us into the eternal life of the triune God so that who we are and become is shaped by the divine communion of life. Christ wants us to know that we are God’s beloved whom God will never abandon. The more deeply we know that, the more fully we live in that love and embody it together.

Jesus told his first disciples that he wasn’t going away, but rather ahead of them, ahead of us to prepare a place for all of us. And then he told us that we also are preparing a place. “Those who love me will keep my word,” he said, “and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Living in the peace of Christ and loving fearlessly, the community of disciples becomes a dwelling place for God in the world, a living temple of the living God.

We have a deep and often painful desire to be fully at home in our lives and Jesus tells us that our desire is a reflection of God’s desire to be at home with us. We whisper and sing “Abide with me” because we feel small and helpless, because our hearts are troubled, because we are afraid of facing the unknown by ourselves, and because letting go doesn’t come easy at all. God also sings “Abide with me,” only the words are different; it is the song of creation and redemption; it is the song of life’s fulfillment in the communion of Creator and creation. It is the song of love that will not let us go. Let’s learn to sing along.

 

[1] Caroline M. Kelly, “I Am Still With You,” Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2002, p.39-41

[2] http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175711

[3] Henry Francis Lyte http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Abide_with_Me

Looking for audio of older sermons? Check out our Sermon Audio Archive.