“Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.”
As we still bask in the afterglow of our Savior’s mighty resurrection during these five weeks after Easter and gratefully take comfort in the four-fold assurance that it gives to us Christians (Cf. Q/A 152 in the Exposition of Luther’s Small Catechism, C.P.H., 1943), we recall the Lord Jesus’ walk with two disciples on Easter afternoon and the wonderful “Bible class” that He conducted for their benefit along the way to Emmaus. This encounter, well known to most of us since childhood already when we studied it in Sunday School, is recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24, beginning with verse 13.
As they set out on their seven and one-half mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Cleopas and the other disciple had one thing on their mind; and it was the topic of their conversation as they walked. It was “all these things which had happened” (v. 14) in the city over the past few days. They “communed together and reasoned” (v. 15), that is, they talked together and considered, all the events that had taken place regarding “Jesus of Nazareth,” their Friend, their Master, “a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people” (v. 19), who, they had trusted, would have been the long-promised Redeemer of Israel (v. 21). They were “sad” (v. 17), depressed and despondent, about the whole situation — a fact that Jesus said He specially noticed as He observed them — and He asked them why. They were frankly amazed that this man, whom they did not recognize at this point, had not heard about the goings on in Jerusalem during the past week. Why, just about everybody in the city knew what had taken place! Was he perhaps a stranger in town (v. 18)? And they proceeded to fill him in on all the details: The sinister plot of the chief priests to destroy Jesus, how they had arrested, convicted, condemned and crucified Him — all of which left His disciples sorely disappointed, especially since three days had now passed and they hadn’t seen Him. (They no doubt had at least a vague recollection of Jesus’ promise that He would rise again on the third day — Matthew 20:19; cf. 27:63; etc. — but nothing had come of it.) But then there were the reports of the women who had visited His sepulcher earlier that morning, had found it empty, and had said that angels had told them that He was alive (vv. 20–24)! What were they to make of all this?? They were so confused and bewildered!
St. Luke tells us that the “eyes” of the disciples “were holden that they should not know Him” (24:16). It wasn’t that, in their grief, they simply did not recognize Jesus because they were psychologically unprepared to see Him, as some have alleged. Nor were they in a zombie-like trance, unable to distinguish reality from fantasy. On the contrary, they were fully conscious and completely lucid, quite capable of carrying on a protracted conversation with this “stranger.” But the Lord Himself had kept them from recognizing Him and thus from placing their confidence in what their eyes perceived, rather than in what His Word revealed to them and of what His Word would ultimately convince them. Compare Jesus’ words to Thomas one week later: “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Jesus then made use of this opportunity to reprove the foolish disciples of their “slow[ness] of heart to believe all that the prophets [had] spoken” (v. 25); and, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (v. 27). He did the same in the presence of the ten disciples in Jerusalem later that same evening, “open[ing] their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, ‘Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day’” (v. 46). Indeed, the key to acknowledging, accepting, and believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is NOT “seeing” Him and “recognizing” Him — as if we, as the disciples of old, might desire to have His visible presence among us; for, as Abraham said to the rich man in hell (Luke 16:31), “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead!” The key is hearing what “the Scriptures” have to say, that “more sure Word of prophecy” than even eye- and ear-witness testimony (II Peter 1:19), and understanding (Ephesians 1:17ff.) what God in Christ has done (and still does) for our salvation.
It is therefore significant for us, as we ponder now the lyrics of a well-known and beloved hymn based upon the words of our title-text, that Cleopas and the other disciple extended their invitation to Jesus, NOT because they then already recognized Him with their eyes, but because they recognized Him in His Word. For they said in retrospect upon His instruction, BEFORE “their eyes were opened and they knew Him” (v. 31), “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way and while He opened to us the Scriptures??” (v. 32).
We therefore pray with the hymnist that our risen and everliving “dearest Jesus,” hidden from our eyes but present everywhere, also with us, according to His human nature (Matthew 28:20; Colossians 2:9), “abide…among us” very specially and significantly, in ways that we can understand and appreciate by faith in Him focused upon the Scriptures, with His “grace,” with His “Word,” with His “brightness,” with His “blessings,” with His “protection,” and with His “love.” In the case of each of these, a Scripture citation is included at the end of each strophe to sharpen the focus of our spiritual eyes to behold what great things our gracious God has done and still does for our salvation. We strongly suggest that you look these up for your edification as you read through the lines of this beloved hymn.
We sing in the first stanza of Hymn 53 (The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941):
Abide, O dearest Jesus, (Matthew 1:21)
among us with Thy grace, (I Corinthians 16:23)
that Satan may not harm us (I Peter 5:8-9)
nor we to sin give place. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
In the second stanza we are reminded of the Savior’s words, “peace be unto you” (John 20:19b) and the gladness that He brought them, not only through His visible presence, but especially by means of His Word (Luke 24:45):
Abide, O dear Redeemer, (Luke 24:21)
among us with Thy Word; (Romans 10:8)
and thus now and hereafter (Isaiah 54:10)
true peace and joy afford. (Romans 14:17)
We beseech our Savior, “the Light of the world” (John 8:12), to abide with us in and through His enlightening Word so that we never “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79) as “strangers from the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12) or succumb to the efforts of the devil to “deceive us and seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice” (Luther):
Abide with heavenly brightness (Isaiah 60:19)
among us, precious Light! (John 12:46)
Thy truth direct and keep us (John 8:32)
from error’s gloomy night. (I John 4:6)
In the fourth stanza, we beseech the Savior’s “blessings” upon us, not merely the temporal things which belong to “daily bread” (4th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer), but particularly upon the “richest blessings,” the spiritual blessings that we have and continue to enjoy, as we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18), nourished with His precious Word (Isaiah 55:1-3):
Abide with richest blessings (Psalm 103:2ff.)
among us, bounteous Lord! (Psalm 13:5-6)
Let us in grace and wisdom (Acts 20:32; Psalm 19:7)
grow daily through Thy Word. (II Peter 3:18)
As was the case with Jesus’ disciples, sorrow would indeed fill our hearts (John 16:6) at the thought of His absence from us, including the prospect of not having His mighty protection against the trials and tribulations we still must face here in this world, were it not for His promise: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b). For the ability to “endure even unto the end” (Matthew 24:13) lies not in us but in “Him who is able to keep [us] from falling” (Jude 1:24), “the only wise God, our Savior” (v. 25). And so we sing in the fifth stanza of our hymn:
Abide with Thy protection (Psalm 46)
among us, Lord, our Strength, (Isaiah 41:10)
lest world and Satan fell us (I John 2:15-17; I Peter 5:8)
and overcome at length. (II Peter 2:18-20; Revelation 3:11)
Finally, we beseech our “faithful Savior” to “abide…among us” with His “love.” It is “the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), which is incomprehensible for its vastness and for its selflessness in His humbling Himself to be our substitute under the Law and in the giving of His life as the ransom-price of man’s redemption; and it is beyond compare for its constancy, for its steadfastness, and for its constraining power in the hearts of true believers. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” St. Paul asks rhetorically in Romans 8:35. Why, nothing, of course, as the apostle points out in the following verses! And so we pray with the hymnwriter:
Abide, O faithful Savior, (II Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 2:17; 10:23)
among us with Thy love! (Romans 8:35; Ephesians 3:19)
Grant steadfastness and help us (II Peter 3:17; Jude 1:24)
to reach our home above! (II Timothy 4:18; Revelation 2:10)
To that blessed end, we have the Lord’s abiding Easter Benediction upon us from the Epistle to the Hebrews:
“Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever! Amen.”
— D. T. M.