The Bridge Builder

Oct. 2, 2019

I grew up hearing people attempt to describe their observations of the Holy Spirit’s movements by saying, “The Lord moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.” Later in life I heard another quote similar to the first one but with a more comic message, “The Lord moves in mischievous ways, our blunders to reform.” At any rate, sometimes things occur that are difficult to explain. Often, because we can’t explain them we simply dismiss it from our thoughts like it never happened. 

Today’s reflection centers around extraordinary happenings that are often overlooked. Back in the late 1980s I was involved in chaplaincy training. This chaplaincy thing was very new to me. I began experiencing happenings for which I felt unprepared. I stood by bedsides of people who were suffering with all kinds of illnesses. Most of these hospital patients got well and were discharged home. Some of them, however, did not leave the hospital but experienced death. 

I became well acquainted with numerous patients who were nearing death. I began to develop friendships with these special ones. I knew it would not be long before they would be taking their exit. One particular patient, for whom I had ministered, died in the night. I was not at the hospital when he took his flight. Upon my return the next morning, the deceased patient’s family requested that I preach their husband, father’s and grandfather’s funeral. Up until that point, I had never preached a funeral. I had no idea how to go about preparing for a funeral service.  

I sought advice from seasoned ministers as to how I was to prepare for my first funeral service. The directions I received were very helpful. I had served numerous congregations as their music minister before entering into chaplaincy training. One particular pastor I had served with right out of seminary introduced a poem in one of his Sunday sermons. It was entitled, The Bridge Builder. It goes something like this:

 

An old man going on a weary way, came at the evening cold and gray

To a chasm vast and deep and wide through which there was flowing a swollen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim, for the swollen stream held no fear for him,

And turned when on the other side and built a bridge to span the tide.

 

Said a fellow pilgrim near, “you’re waisting your time with building here, 

Your journey will end at the close of day, and you never again shall pass this way.”

The builder lifted his old gray head, “Good friend in the way I’ve come,” he said,

“There follows after me a fair-haired youth, and the swollen stream which held no fear 

For me, for the fair-haired youth may a pit-fall be.”

 

While I prepared my first funeral service, I chose to finish my sermon with this Bridge Builder poem. I remember distinctly the family seated in the chapel of the funeral home. As I began to quote this poem the expressions on the faces of the family members began to show excitement. I recall the granddaughter let out a soft squeal as she motioned to the rest of the family. When I completed my sermon and offered a prayer of benediction, the family members indicated to me that this particular poem was a favorite of the deceased.

Additional conversations with this family aided me in discovering that this deceased patient had been a spiritual bridge builder for his grandson and the poem being utilized in his funeral service was not only his favorite, but it also emphasized how much of a blessing he had been to all of his grandchildren. How was I to know this poem, that I first heard several years earlier, would be just what the family needed to hear as they remembered their loved one? The only explanation I can offer you pertains to the miraculous movements of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps spiritual bridge building will assist each of us to encounter the miraculous while providing tangible relationships for those who follow in our foot steps.