We watched an excellent television programme last week about London Bridge, I think it is part of a series that will feature other bridges in the country. The programme looked at the earliest bridge on the site and its importance to the growth of London as the capital city, but perhaps the most impressive parts of the programme showed models of the Mediaeval and Tudor bridge with its enormous tidal current flowing like rapids between the narrow gaps left by the bridge’s piers. There were so many buildings crammed together on the bridge itself, that it looked as if the whole, top heavy structure, would topple over into the Thames. At either end of the bridge, and even built on the bridge, there were churches – but what caught my attention was a comment from a Tudor ‘worthy’ who said ‘To build a bridge is a pious act’ I have been thinking about it ever since!
In earlier times, many bridges were endowed by the wealthy as a means of cutting journey times and making life more convenient for the local population. It certainly could be considered a pious act to build and maintain a structure that eased lives and helped local economies flourish – just think how difficult life becomes when floods cause the closure of the bridges over the Great Ouse! It is fascinating to fly over Scandinavia and see the multiplicity of bridges linking different small islands together – and the longest bridge in Europe, the Oresund Bridge which links two different countries together, Sweden and Denmark.
I like that kind of bridge building; it reminds me that so often it is necessary to build bridges between different cultures and languages who need to share the same space, our world. There are too many divisions in modern society where building bridges would be a great act of ‘piety’. St Matthew’s gospel says ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ The awfulness of our present times where nobody is safe from a deadly infection, reminds me of our common humanity – it should be a time to set aside false divisions, such as race, colour, gender, faith, even wealth, for we are all children of God.
But there is still one more bridge, a bridge not built by human hands – but the beautiful and ephemeral arc of the rainbow, which, when it appears, seems to bridge the gap between earth and heaven. This is, perhaps, the most beautiful bridge of all. It appears in the traditions and mythology of all cultures – and is not controlled by humankind, pious or not, it is God’s bridge – a sign of the promise made in the book of Genesis; ‘God said to Noah, this is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth’. No matter how bad things get, God will never break his covenant, his promise, to us – he will love us, protect us and heal us – he is there always.
We don’t often see rainbows, but perhaps each time we cross a bridge built by human hands, we could take time to thank the builder and sponsor of the bridge for its convenience, to remember to live up to our inheritance as God’s children and bring peace into our world – and never to forget, no matter how bad things may seem, God will never leave us nor forsake us.