The start of the 2022 World Cup this past Sunday in Qatar has generated a myriad of controversial storylines, none of which have anything to do with the actual sport itself.
But if the players and fans really wanted to stir things up in the peninsular Arab country, they might consider picking up a long and beloved European tradition of singing hymns before or during the soccer (football) matches.
For nearly a century, players and fans have been singing the beloved hymn, “Abide with Me” at FA Cup Finals.
The tradition began in 1927 when Sir Alfred Wall, the Secretary of the Football Association, suggested the hymn replace a piece called, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Apparently, King George V and Queen Mary both loved the hymn – and can you blame them?
Written by Scottish pastor and Anglican priest Henry Lyte in 1847 as he was dying of tuberculosis, the prelate was first inspired by the hymn’s theme while ministering to another dying person in 1820.
As the story goes, Pastor Lyte was ministering to a fellow priest, Augustus le Hunte, who was urging Lyte to more fully embrace the apostle Paul’s writings. As he faded away, Pastor le Hunte reportedly kept saying, “Abide with me. Abide with me.”
But it wasn’t until Lyte was on his own deathbed that he finally got around to putting pen to paper to write:
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, oh, 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 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.
The mixing of the sacred with sport, and especially with a stadium full of revelers (many of whom are drinking) may seem strange today. But the tradition demonstrates just how common and binding faith once was in society. Players and fans sang the song because they knew the song. And they knew the song because they went to church where they first learned to sing it. Faith was a dominant and positive force of their culture.
“Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” is another wonderful hymn that’s often sung in European stadiums before or even during football or rugby matches.
It’s a stirring sight to see and hear tens of thousands of fans raising their voices in song, especially belting out the lyrics of a Christian classic written in 1745. One wonders what a person who may not know the Lord is thinking when he or she sings:
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside. Death of death, and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. Songs of praises, songs of praises, I will ever sing to you.
We shouldn’t hold our breath waiting to hear hymns from the pitches of Qatar, but it would surely be a glorious sound should it ever happen.