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HYMN FOR PENTECOST 22 Wade in the Water/Bridge over troubled Water

Text: Anonymous Tune: Anonymous African American Spiritual

R/Wade in the water) (Wade in the water)

Wade in the water Wade in the water Wade in the water, children God is gonna trouble these waters

See that band all dressed in white God is gonna trouble these waters It look like a band of the Israelites God is gonna trouble these waters

See that band all dressed in red God is gonna trouble these waters Look like a band that Moses led God is gonna trouble these waters

My Lord delivered Daniel well Daniel well, Daniel well Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel well Then why not every man?

Man went down to the river Man went down to the river, Lord Man went down to the river Went down there for to pray


One of the hymns recommended for this day is "Wade in the Water," one of the spirituals recognized as being part of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman (d. 1913), who went at least eleven times back into slave territory to lead slaves to freedom, was said to have sung this when she saw that the fleeing slaves were in danger of being found. She knew that dogs would lose the scent of the escapees if they were in the water. Part of the rhetoric of the spiritual is its double meaning. While singing about the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, they were also singing about fleeing to freedom in the North.

The Exodus is deeply imprinted in this song, as is the Exile with the reference to Daniel who also was in enemy territory and was protected by the Lord.

We are approaching All Saints Day and this hymn also can be in that treasury of song. The notion of having to cross the river into Canaan or heaven is writ large in many accounts of the pilgrimage of the Christian. John Bunyan surely used it with great artistry in his great epic, Pilgrim’s Progress, which I referred to last week.

When one grows old, everything reminds one of everything. "Troubled waters" certainly got my memory machine into high gear. So I spent the evening listening to and researching the great song by Simon and Garfunkel, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It became something of a secular hymn of support for a friend, and Christians can hear Jesus singing this to troubled souls as they pass through difficult and lonely times: he will wipe away their tears, etc.There are recordings of it by hundreds of singers, famous or not, in many styles from gospel, country, jazz, classical even. Simon wrote it while in a Gospel music phase and one hears echoes of that language in the text. Art Garfunkel’s version in Central Park as a young man is something to watch, as is Elvis, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Susan Boyle, countless choirs, classical orchestras. Iver Kleive played it for the sound track of the Norwegian film, De Unsynlige/Troubled Water.

The phrase “troubled water” is used by the King James Version as it tells the miracle in John 5 when Jesus comes to the pool of Bethesda and sees a man who has waited there for over thirty years to be the first to make it into the pool when the angel descends and “troubles the waters.“ Scholars have decided that those verses about the troubled waters don’t belong in the earliest versions so they have been removed, or printed in italics.

Too bad. The Greek can be translated “agitated” the waters. I like "troubled" better. There are more levels of meaning in troubled. One hears worry in the word. Maybe God is saying something urgent that we can only hear in swirling waters.

Joakim Skovgaard, the Danish painter, painted his version of the scene with the angel troubling the waters. It is one of the classic paintings of a biblical scene and it is hard to read this chapter of John without seeing it. Fortunately, Skovgaard hadn't heard what the scholars said about the verses!

The angel troubling the waters at Bethesda Joakim Skovgaard 1888

Psalm 77 says the waters trembled when they saw God, but the psalmist could not divine his footsteps, although he was there—thus "God led the people like sheep by the hand of Moses and Aaron." This was a great comfort to Lina Sandell after she lost her father to drowning.

Back to the slave narrative: they saw in the troubled water the presence of God and continued on by faith. The fugitive slaves called Harriet Tubman “Moses” for her leading them out of Egypt into Canaan. After the war she became an active member of the woman’s suffrage movement, working with Susan B. Anthony and others to get women the vote.

She remained firm in her Christian faith. As she died, she muttered, “I go to prepare a place for you.” The Christian faith is always about a journey, going somewhere. This world is not our home. While we must pass through troubled waters, our faith tells us God is in them, and we know our friend stands at the other side urging us on, ready to greet us in the light.


This spiritual at first was not included in the repertoire of the Fisk Jubilee Singers when they began singing tours around the country in the 1870s because they regarded it and many other spirituals as holy ground which should not be desecrated by being sung in concerts. As they traveled on their first tours, however, they began to understand how they could use them to educate audiences about slavery and the Underground Railway. The great John Wesley Work II (1871-1925) taught at Fisk University in Nashville where he

Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870a

advanced the cause of spirituals and the "jubilee song craft" of the Fisk Jubilee Singers which introduced spirituals to the world. They became central to the canon of American song during that time and remain so today. This first appeared in New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (1901 ) which John published with his brother, Frederick J. Work.


The Academy Choir

Cynthia Liggins Thomas

The Spirituals—the text is longer here and somewhat different.

Bridge over Troubled Water

Art Garfunkel in Central Park singing Bridge Over Troubled Water/he's so young!

Arethra Franklin on piano and singing

Elvis Presley—Simon said after he heard him singing the song, there was no point in anyone else singing it

Whitney Houston and Cece Winans

Susan Boyle

Iver Kleive from movie Deunsynlige, or Troubled Water

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