Lord, stay with us

Easter Evening

Last year at this time, I wrote about the Emmaus account as the beginning of Eastertide, that season of mysterious appearances of Our Lord often in connection with meals shared His disciples, and I noted three prayers in bcp1979 that refer to this pericope, especially the phrases ‘stay / abide with us, [for it is evening]’ and ‘be known to us in the breaking of the bread’ (the latter of which is also the basis of some of the anthems at the Breaking of the Bread given in the Book of Occasional Services and set to music in the Hymnal). I did not, however, mention the three hymns in the Hymnal that also deal with this account.

Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless
     thy chosen pilgrim flock
with manna in the wilderness,
     with water from the rock.

We would not live by bread alone,
     but by thy word of grace,
in strength of which we travel on
     to our abiding-place.

Be known to us in breaking bread,
     and do not then depart;
Savior, abide with us, and spread
     thy table in our heart.

Lord, sup with us in love divine,
     thy Body and thy Blood,
that living bread, that heavenly wine,
     be our immortal food.

This hymn [343] by James Montgomery* explicitly connects the wandering of the Israelites in the desert with two other desert experiences: Christ’s temptation (‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’, Dt 8.3, refers to Israel’s time in the wilderness and is of course quoted by Our Lord to rebuke Satan) and the disciples’ journey to Emmaus in the depths of an emotional and spiritual desert. In every case God provides viaticum (manna, water; word, bread; Body, Blood) – just enough sustenance for the journey – and then seemingly disappears, leading us ever on ‘to our abiding-place’.

‘Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest’, writes George Wallace Briggs [305/6]. In the second stanza the author places the Eucharistic celebration as it were in the Upper Room. The unity of the Church through Christ is the main theme of the third and fourth stanzas: and not just the Church militant, but the Church triumphant, who are always present – or rather, whose eternal and perfect communion with God the faithful glimpse and share in – in the celebration of the Eucharist. The hymn ends with a prayer reminiscent of the Emmaus disciples’ request: ‘then open thou our eyes, that we may see; / be known to us in breaking of the Bread.’

Translations of two portions of ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’ appear in the Hymnal: ‘Jesus, the very thought of thee’ [642] and ‘O Jesus, joy of loving hearts’ [649/50]. The latter is particularly appropriate for Eastertide (I quote the original text of the translator, Ray Palmer, as the Hymnal text has been changed just enough for icel to have claimed copyright; the only significant change in these stanzas is from ‘gracious smile’ to ‘presence’):

We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
     And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
     And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.

Our restless spirits yearn for Thee,
     Wherever our changeful lot is cast;
Glad when Thy gracious smile we see,
     Blessed when our faith can hold Thee fast.

O Jesus, ever with us stay,
     Make all our moments calm and bright;
Chase the dark night of sin away,
     Shed over the world Thy holy light.

In all these post-Resurrection encounters, the disciples (including those of the present day) naturally wish, having seen the Risen Lord, to lay hold of Him, to stay in the moment (rather as St Peter wished at the Transfiguration, and as Mary Magdalene wished but was warned not to do) – but the real Presence which the faithful discern in the Sacrament and in the Church (both of which are the Body of Christ), is bigger, deeper, more elusive than even these very real manifestations, and it is with the eyes of faith that Christ’s followers seek and repeatedly find Him in one another, in the world around us, and in our own hearts.

*  Montgomery is something of a ‘secret weapon’, less well known than Wesley or Watts but almost as well represented in the Hymnal in both quality and quantity (nine hymns), including three that have been quoted significantly in this space: ‘Angels, from the realms of glory’ [93], ‘Hail to the Lord’s anointed’ [616], and ‘When Jesus left his Father’s throne’ [480]. I don’t know whether he ever espoused anything other than the Moravian tradition in which he was raised, but he clearly had a high view of the Sacrament as well as a clear understanding of the Incarnational sweep of the Church’s year.