wooden bench facing sunset

I was doing the dishes this evening when this hymn played from a playlist I was listening to. As I scrubbed away, I was reminded of why I love this hymn and it’s meaning. One line seemed to grab me:

Help of the helpless, O abide with me!

Wow! Could anything be more apt for such a time as this?! The whole world has essentially become helpless as we’ve watch COVID-19 wreak havoc. I mean literally helpless. It caught everybody by surprise and months into the outbreak, helpless is where we still are. Yes, much is being done to alleviate peoples distress, but even the best doctors are still helpless without a definitive cure. It’s a fact. There is no actual help. We have no idea when this will end and we can get back to normal.

Deep & Profound

Growing up, I remember this hymn being played or sung at many funerals and even by the Indian army band during it’s beating retreat in Wellignton. What struck me was the emotion I always felt when I heard it. A deep emotion would well up in my heart. It’s like you want to cry but you don’t know why. Not one but a combination of emotions. I’ve heard that Gandhiji called it one of his favourite hymns too.

I remember the last funeral I went to was my grandfathers. I was supposed to give a eulogy right after this song was played, on a violin no less! One of the most heart-rending instruments I’ve ever heard! I couldn’t do it!

So what is it about this hymn that moves me and so deeply and profoundly but also gives me a certain strength?

This song represents people in any one or all of these scenarios:

  • a person feeling disappointment
  • a person struggling with addictions
  • a person observing a dying world,
  • a person who is feeling lonely and abandoned
  • a person looking back at their life
  • a person feeling lost
  • a person who is sick (terminally even)
  • a person facing death, somehow knowing what’s on the other side

If it had been written in our times it might have been called, ‘stand by me’.

As we go through life, we hope that our parents, spouse, family, children or friends might stand by us when we need them the most. What happens when they can’t or don’t? What happens when they do, but it’s not enough? What happens when they don’t exist? Who will stand by you and me?

I don’t need to research this to know that every single person that has ever existed on this earth has experiences at least one moment of utter loneliness and fear of the unknown. To say one hasn’t would be an impossibility. I’m sure we can all recall times when we felt all the things I’ve mentioned above.


– Henry Francis Lyte

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!

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, O 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 and death, O Lord abide with me!

The Anomaly

It’s also obvious from the lyrics of this hymn that it’s author learnt of a possibility where one could go through life without fear or loneliness. Not because life was perfect and uneventful, but inspite of the terrible circumstances that played out, he’d found a source of strength. This is the same knowledge that has kept every follower of Christ fearless through the struggle for centuries.

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!

What could he mean – to have no fear when faced with sickness, sorrow, disappointments or even death? It’s like saying today that I am fearless even while this pandemic rages on. Consider these verses:

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 – King James Version (KJV)

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57  – The Passion Translation (TPT)

So death, tell me, where is your victory?

Tell me death, where is your sting?

It is sin that gives death its sting and the law that gives sin its power.

But we thank God for giving us the victory as conquerors through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One.

What happens after death?’ It’s one of the BIG questions. Google it and you’ll find every possible kind of answer, but there’s only one answer that rings true to me. Not because I’ve grown up hearing about it, or because someone forced me to believe it. I suspect that the author of this hymn also found this same answer.

It’s the only possibility that makes sense beyond my intellectual capacity. It agrees with something deep in my soul and comes to life, all at once firing up the electrical impulses in my cells and nerves and makes my heart beat faster. A sort of anticipation mixed with an amusement at death trying so hard to create fear.

text on image

“Know Jesus, no fear. No Jesus, know fear.” I once read that somewhere and it’s stayed with me. Jesus is the magnificent possibility, the source. He throws sickness, sorrow, disappointments and death off their bloodthirsty track as they pursue you and me till the very end. He is the one that first stared death in the face and said, ‘not today, not ever!’ He’s the anomaly that changes this whole equation.

Every follower of Christ is given this powerful gift to help us face the deepest heartaches and losses of life. A fearlessness with which we can say that even if we experience these dire situations, we still win in the end, and it’s all because of Jesus. To have the boldness to say that death is not a loss but a gain. We become the exception to the rule, and like Jesus, we are mocked, discounted and called odd because of it. The best part? Nobody can say or do anything to take away the knowledge of being a victor through Jesus. Not even death. it’s what allows us to boldly say, “So death, tell me, where is your victory? Tell me death, where is your sting?”

In Life And Death

During this time of facing a deadly coronavirus that has infected 294,110 and killed 12,944 people worldwide (source), survival is at the top of our lists. Everyday we are looking for possibilities to continue living: stocking up on food, medicine and other supplies, buying masks, staying confined to our homes and taking note of every single bit of information we can get our hands on. Yet, even among the comforts we’ve amassed, we can’t escape news of the rising death toll. Death doesn’t politely knock on the front door hoping someone’s home. He bursts in like a thief in the night and grabs what he wants.

With no guarantee of survival, who will stand by you and me when nobody else can or will?

As the hymn says, change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not, abide with me!

“Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”

So Jesus stayed with them.

Luke 24:29

If you’ve come this far in this blog post, and feel like what I’ve said makes sense and you would like to have a conversation about it, please send me a message.

Extra resources:

Who is Jesus?

What is the Bible?