Monday, August 6, 2012

Olympic Moments

   by Alice Valdal

The 2012 Olympics in London are only a few days away from the closing ceremonies and the world is still buzzing about the Opening night, especially Queen Elizabeth II's turn as a Bond girl.  Who says royalty is stuffy?  But what struck me in this aggressively secular age, was the use of three Christian hymns in the opening ceremonies.  "And Did Those Feet," sung to Parry's tune Jerusalem might have slipped by unremarked since it is almost an unofficial anthem for England, as is "Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer (Jehovah)" sung to Cwm Rhonda in Wales, but "Abide With Me" is a straight out prayer to God for comfort and constancy in life and death.  

     The words were written by Henry Francis Lyte.  Lyte was orphaned at an early age and decided on a career in medicine, however, in 1815 he changed courses and was ordained as a minister in the Church of England.   In 1847 as he lay near to his own death from tuberculosis, inspired by Psalm 102:26-27;  and Luke 24:29, he penned the words to his beloved hymn. 
   The tune was composed in the space of ten minutes by William H. Monk, the music editor for the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern.  The story goes that the composer realized the hymn under consideration had no tune so he sat down at the piano and composed "Eventide" to accompany Lyte's text.  The words and the music were then published in that edition.

     When I was a teen I thought Abide With Me the stodgiest piece in the hymn book and groaned aloud when required to sing it.  With age comes wisdom?  It has now entered my conscience as a favourite due to its assurance of God's steadfastness.  When "change and decay in all around I see," the Father remains unchanging and faithful.  "Through cloud and sunshine," God is our guide and strength.   "When other helpers fail," our God is a constant comfort.  When temptation strikes, God is there to "foil the tempter's power." and when we pass from this world to the next, "When morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee," our Lord is there to welcome us home.   
     Whatever made me think this powerful hymn was boring!  Perhaps it was the manner of singing.  I found one note which advised the tune should not be sung too slowly and that organists should keep keep a firm and steady tempo.  

      Back to the Olympics, Abide With Me does have a sporting connection of sorts.  Since the 1927 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Cardiff City, the first and last verses of the hymn are traditionally sung before the kick-off of the match.  Since 1929 it has been sung prior to the kick-off at every Rugby League Challenge Cup final.

     Whether the athletes and fans at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies heard these powerful words as a hymn or as a sporting anthem, I don't know.  I found it refreshing to hear reference to a God who is greater even than the Olympic ideals.

No comments:

Post a Comment