Abide with me

When our son Miles was a little boy – years ago when we lived in Virginia – Nancy went away for a long weekend to attend a continuing education workshop. On Thursday morning she walked out the door from the kitchen to the garage, and Miles waved her good-bye with a happy smile. He didn’t quite understand that she’d be gone a little longer than usual. When I took him to bed that night, he asked, “Where’s my mommy?”

“She’s in Maryland; she’s there to learn new things.”


“Yes, Maryland, it’s far away, but she’ll come back very soon.”

That was all he asked. In the kitchen the next morning, just when I was pouring some milk over his cereal, he looked at me and said, “Where’s mommy?”

“She’s in Maryland, only for a little while.”

After finishing his cereal, he went to the frontdoor and started calling “Mommy!” across the street. Our neighbor Mary lived in that house, so in his mind Maryland wasn’t really that far away. “That is Mary’s house,” I told him. “Maryland is far, far away, but mom will come back, not tonight, but just one more day.”

When I put him to bed that night, just before I left his room, I turned around and said, “Good night, Miles, I love you.” He pulled the blanket halfway over his face, giggled, and said, “Love you too, Power Ranger.” That was a great compliment in those days. Minutes later he was sound asleep.

My colleague Caroline wrote about developing a fear of the dark when she was eight or nine years old. I know that feeling, most of you probably do. I remember well how I often ran up the steps from the basement where my mom had sent me to get something for her – and I know that I didn’t run because of my youthful exuberance but solely because I couldn’t get away fast enough from that darkness at the bottom of the stairs. It was much more difficult for Caroline who 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 – from monsters in the closet and under the bed to hidden intruders behind the curtain and strange shadows cast on the bedroom ceiling and walls by strange creatures lurking outside her window. Caroline 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]

We all know those words we utter at the edge where day turns into night:

“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.”

I read a poem with friends on Tuesday. It was written by Jane Kenyon who died of leukemia when she was only 47.

Let Evening Come[2]

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.

I read those lines, and I heard echoes of 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. The words continued to do their wondrous work, and every day since Tuesday, at one time or another, I found myself humming, Abide with Me.[3]

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.

From our first breath we learn to let evening come, trusting the love that holds us and all things. On the border where life’s little day turns into night we learn to let go, trusting that we are being held.

Letting go doesn’t come easy, and we get to practice it all the time. Some of our youth are graduating this month from high school and preparing to enter college after the summer. There’s so much excitement about that transition, but you also know that it means saying good-bye to friends, to families, to a couple of teachers that have meant so much to you.

Some of our parents are saying goodbye to their eldest child, still remembering the day you dropped her off at Kindergarten like it was yesterday. Other parents are watching with a smile and a tear as the last one leaves the nest. Just yesterday, a dad walked his daughter down the aisle, and it’s been only days that another daughter followed her father’s casket down that same aisle.

Every day, it seems, we are saying goodbye – goodbye to childhood, goodbye to high school, goodbye to friends, goodbye to jobs, goodbye to dreams – goodbye, goodbye, and the little litany of farewell even sounds like the book we read to our littlest ones at bed time,

Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Goodnight cow jumping over the moon
Goodnight light and the red balloon
Goodnight bears
Goodnight chairs
Goodnight kittens and Goodnight mittens
Goodnight little house

On the border where life’s little day turns into night we learn to simply let evening come, trusting the love that holds us and all things. We whisper and sing, Abide with me, because we are afraid of facing the unknown by ourselves; we don’t want to be left comfortless.

Jesus spoke very kindly with his friends on the eve of his betrayal and arrest. In John, it’s column after column of words printed in red, and all of them are about how Jesus’ presence with us will not end but change. He tells his friends that he’s not going away, but rather ahead of them.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. 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?”

He tells us that he’s not abandoning us, but going ahead of us to make tomorrow a homecoming. He is going ahead of us, and we can continue to follow him by keeping his word and loving one another as he has loved us. He tells us how he will be 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 Holy Spirit will comfort and empower us, just as Jesus did, and abide with us forever. Now the unknown is no longer occupied by fear but has become the abode of promise, and our anxious hearts are filled with peace. Now we are prepared to hear another, rather astonishing word of Jesus.

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

It is not only Jesus who goes to prepare a place for us, we also are meant to go and prepare a place: keeping the word of Jesus and loving without fear we become a dwelling place for God in the world. It is not just us who have that deep and often painful desire to be fully at home, it is God’s desire too. And without the Holy Spirit’s work among us, teaching us and reminding us and comforting us and empowering us, without the Spirit’s work God would remain homeless in the world.

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, because letting go doesn’t come easy at all. God also whispers and sings, “Abide with me,” but with different lyrics. God invites us to let the love of Christ be the true word that keeps us and all our goodbyes of a lifetime. God invites us to let the love of Christ be our morning praise and our evening rest. God invites us to make the love of Christ our home.


[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