Luke 24:13-35           

Abide with Me*

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 m

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 strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me. 

I had never considered the hymn we just sang to be a part of the Easter story. But this year as we have observed before, the entire story sounds different in light of our current situation, of being confined to quarters. As we spend long hours, days, and weeks indoors for fear of contracting the virus, we begin to hear the story of Jesus followers with renewed attention. The idea of taking great care about our surroundings no longer seems strange.

We think today about a familiar story of Jesus traveling on the road to Emmaus, and encountering two of his followers who did not at first recognize him. Their preoccupation with the events surrounding Jesus death and early stories of resurrection conjure up for us thoughts of recounting our own experiences in a time of upheaval.

Like those who at the end of an unbelievable week of trauma and surprise returned at the end of the Sabbath to their home in Emmaus, we find ourselves revisiting the stories we have experienced and heard in our time. We retell the tragic and heartrending stories, the brave and inspiring stories, the encouraging and affirming stories, the mundane and routine turned upside down stories. We try to make sense of what has been happening in our lives and what is yet to come.

Natalie Sims, who grew up in the Methodist church and lives in Sydney Australia. She has a love for music for the church and began in 2008 to blog** about the choices of hymns she recommended to her small church. From that small beginning she has become a primary resource for pastors and lay leaders of churches around the world, though her efforts are entirely voluntary. Her passion for the many genera of music used in worship has grown to include: traditional hymns, praise music, African American Gospel, medieval and modern chants, and music of other countries and cultures. She says, “Congregationally, I like songs that are beautiful, that are intelligent, and that are inclusive. I believe a song doesn’t have to be new to fit these criteria.” You would be right if you guessed that I refer to her website on a regular basis.

When I looked at her suggestions for this text and saw her idea of considering the old favorite Abide with Me with this story it stopped me in my tracks. I thought, “Really?” and then I thought…”Of course!”

Like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, we want, we need, Jesus to abide with us. We need the comfort Jesus provides on our journey through this time of uncertainty. This is precisely why we Christians tell our stories, why we retell this particular story, and all of those told by the disciples in the days  following the resurrection, and the ones we tell now in the 21st century experience of a worldwide pandemic.

It is said that people who experience trauma need to retell their story forty times in their attempts to make meaning before they can find healing. Perhaps you remember that the number forty shows up repeatedly in the biblical account. That number 40, often used in scripture to symbolize completion, is just as important now as in times long past.

Like the followers on the road to Emmaus we benefit from telling our stories. In telling and retelling them, we will begin to recognize how Jesus shows up now. We will notice how he is present with us in these days of isolation to comfort and sustain. We tell the stories so that we might re-member hearts and bodies broken and in pain. By re-membering, we slowly and with much care, putting them back together. 

So when the pain of loss, or loneliness, or boredom, or of too much togetherness overwhelms you don’t be afraid to tell your story. Now as always we called to be a community where joys are increased and cares are divided. We journey together knowing Jesus walks beside us, even as we appeal to him to stay, to tarry, to linger, to abide with us.

Help of the helpless, O abide with me,

O thou who changest not, abide with me.

Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

*Henry F. Lyte, Abide with Me, Tune: Eventide by William H. Monk,
Public Domain
**Natalie Sims, Singing from the Lectionary blogspot,