Times of Crisis

I was six years old during in the Spring of 1970, finishing 2nd grade, when I first heard, on our morning radio at breakfast, a different kind of pop song. It was slow and majestic, and sounded like it belonged more in a church than on a secular radio station. In fact, one day that Spring our pastor got up to preach and had our organist play a bit of that song as an illustration for the sermon that day.

The song, which topped the charts for most of the first half of 1970, was by Paul Simon, who wrote the song, and by Art Garfunkel, who sang the lead. It was entitled, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and it seemed to be about the singer promising to someone listening – a close friend – that he would be there in his friend’s darkest hours and be a big help – saying to the friend that, like a “bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.”

Now why did my pastor at that time, Pastor Dallas, quote that secular song in the midst of a spiritual sermon? Well, it partly had to do with the times. 1970 was the third year in a row of difficult years involving strife in our country: we had the Vietnam War, protests to end that war (including the shooting and killing of 5 young people in the midst of a protest at Kent State University in Ohio)…then in response to that many campuses shut down…then there was the economy: it had stalled, plus the country was still reeling from the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. I remember, though I was young, that Pastor Dallas in his sermon mentioned that Jesus could be our “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; that we – as a church and as individuals – could at any time go to Jesus, our Savior, for help and solace in the midst of all that crisis and chaos.

I wonder now, since back then I was only six years old, why did that sermon stick with me all these years?  Well, I think it was because I had never before realized that a secular song could be used in such a spiritual way. I had never before imagined that a pop song could reveal what Jesus could do for us…but the song DID reveal what Jesus was available to do for us back then AND…what Jesus is ready and waiting to do for us now, in THESE trouble times.

In researching this song, I learned that Paul Simon had begun to listen to gospel songs in 1969 and had heard a famous gospel song – a song based on a slave song that taught the slaves to have hope for freedom – a song called “O Mary, Don’t You Weep.” The song is based on the Mary, sister of Martha, who wept in front of Jesus as she mourned the death of her dear brother, Lazarus. If you recall, Jesus actually didn’t say “Mary, don’t you weep” as she wept in front of Him; actually, what Jesus did in response was to weep as well. 

Anyway, Paul Simon was listening to this gospel song as it was sung by a great group named the Swan Silvertones, and Simon heard their lead singer, Claude Jeter, add these lines: “Trouble in the land will all be over after a while” and then, speaking for Jesus, Jeter also added, “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in My Name.” Paul Simon later acknowledged that “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down” was a rearrangement of Jeter’s words.

Now that last phrase, “I will lay me down,” makes me think of when Jesus predicted ahead of time that He would die for our sins, saying, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” (John 10:15) Jesus loved those He sometimes called “the sheep” – people like you and me. Jesus loved us so much that He died for us. Jesus loved and still loves us in a special way because He became human, too. He fully identified – and identifies now – with you and me – His fellow human beings.

The writer of Hebrews illustrates just how much Jesus loves us and identifies with us in chapters two and four of his letter – which is our “Boost from the Bible” today. We read: “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, He [Jesus] Himself likewise shared the same things [including death]….Therefore, He [Jesus] had to become like His brothers and sisters in every respect, so that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God….Because He Himself was tested by what He suffered, He is able to help those who are being tested….For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.”

You see, the writer of the book of Hebrews wants us to realize – referring to this point again and again – that Jesus became a great and powerful symbol of mercy and grace for all Christians because He was both fully divine AND fully human. Jesus was tempted as we are tempted every day. He did not succumb to temptation, of course, but Jesus knew and remembers what it was like to feel hungry, to feel thirsty, to be tempted to break all of the Ten Commandments, to feel alone, to weep in the midst of trouble, to have to endure all the normal human functions – from beginning to end – of our digestive system…to be angry and to feel tired enough to need sleep like the rest of us. Jesus knew and remembers what it is like to experience the difficulties of life – or, as Hamlet described them, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

It is all important to know this about Jesus because, by understanding Jesus as both human and divine and that therefore He can relate to us, we now know that GOD can relate to us, even though God is an Infinite Being. Through Jesus, we now know that the most important thing about our Creator is not the awesome power God has – power which, frankly, could be used against us as well as for us – but rather, the most important thing about God is that God is love, as John proclaims in his first letter. God is love and, as Paul wrote of God’s love for us in Romans eight, “If God is for us, who is against us?”

We may think, in these COVID times, that much indeed IS against us, and where is God in all of that? That’s why we read in Hebrews this key passage for today: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” Yes, let us come to God in our hearts, praying to God at all times, unburdening ourselves to God. Let us know and understand that the God we worship, the God of Jesus Christ, will be there in our lives when no one else will; that the God of Jesus Christ will understand better than anyone what we are going through; and that the God of Jesus Christ even understands us better than we understand ourselves, and thus knows just how to comfort and strengthen us – for God in Christ is always able to act as a Bridge over any and all of our “troubled waters.”

Now, I want You to imagine Jesus, God in the flesh, singing the words of this song, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” to you:

When you’re weary, feeling small…When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough and friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down

When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard I will comfort you
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes, and pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down

Let’s face it, we are all weary of what we’ve been going through, even if there’s been some blessings along the way. Yes, we’re weary and tired of this whole thing, and it’s not ending anytime soon. And maybe it’s even worse for you than that, some of you. Maybe, for you times are more than rough and you’ve been mistreated on top of it all, and friends just can’t be found. I’d like you to remember that Jesus Christ not only died for you, but lives for you as well, and is always willing to be a bridge over your troubled water…when you’re down and out…when evening falls so hard…and when darkness comes and pain is all around.

If I were to try and characterize these last several months, I would say that it is a time of great change and great boredom, a time of having to make strange new decisions – a time of low level stress that creeps up on you because it’s both low level and constant – a time of mental fatigue that doesn’t show signs of stopping. But our Jesus, who laid down His life for us, will lay it down for us again, today.

Let us call on Him in prayer: “Jesus, I am grateful that You are not only our Lord and Savior, but our Friend, our best friend. Lead us and guide us by Your Spirit, the Spirit that You have placed within us. Help us always…always to rely upon You and trust You to carry us forward and pull us through. In Your name we pray. Amen.”

May God continue to bless you!

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