“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NRSVue)
Paul Simon is one of the most sophisticated songwriters in contemporary music. He’s always trying something new instead of relying on formulaic songwriting to capture his previous songs’ success. His latest work, Seven Psalms, was recorded as a seven-part piece meant to be listened to as one continuous experience and is an entirely acoustic performance. Some critics have wondered if Paul has taken a religious turn in his octogenarian decade. In contrast, other critics see his latest exploration into spirituality as the continuation of a recurring theme in songs like “Love Me Like a Rock,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “Mother and Child Reunion.”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” is Simon’s most hymn-like song in his library. In 1971, it won five Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Contemporary Song, Best Engineered Record, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. The album also won Album of the Year. To this day, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” is a song played when we need comfort, such as following the 9/11 attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a host of personal crises people face.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” was inspired by Claude Jeter’s line “I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me,” which Jeter sang with his group, the Swan Silvertones, in the 1958 song “Mary Don’t You Weep.” According to gospel historian Anthony Heilbut, Simon later acknowledged his debt to Jeter and paid Jeter for his contribution. Simon also credited Johann Sebastian Bach’s ‘O Sacred Head, Now Wounded’ as inspiration.
I chose “Bridge Over Troubled Water” as the song on my Summer Playlist to go along with Jesus’s words in Matthews’s Gospel, inviting any who are weary and carrying a heavy burden to find rest in him. Jesus is our bridge over troubled waters, who comes alongside us in our struggles and offers to help us make it through.
I hope to see you on Sunday, and don’t forget to invite your friends to share with us as we experience some great classic rock and God’s comforting presence.