Times were hard with famine and unemployment, and the younger generation had to leave home and take their chances in the ‘new world’ as it unfolded back then. They faced a long walk to the docks in Derry, then an arduous sea journey, followed by the uncertainty of their new location. Some found success and fortune but many were lost on the way.
At any rate, the mothers and fathers who kissed them goodbye at the Bridge of Tears usually never saw them again.
It is a place poignant with memory, but also symbolic of the choices we must make in life. Decisions which require faith, courage and at times a degree of sacrifice and separation.
It makes me think of some words of Jesus which at first seem very harsh. He knew that many in the crowd were just tagging along for the ride, stories, miracles and free food. So He employed shock tactics to force them to seriously count the cost of discipleship saying,
‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’
(Matthew 10 v 37-38)
Of course the Lord expects us to love our families. But our first loyalty must be to Him.
Many who choose to follow Jesus are ostracised by their families and friends. The road ahead can look lonely and fearful, like the one across the Bridge. The temptation to turn back can be huge. But forward in faith is the way to new life and freedom. The Lord reassured His shocked listeners with both a wise caution and gracious promise:
‘Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 10 v 39)
Tears may flow for a time, but with Him we’ll never be lost.
As a returned Old Testament exile once sang-
‘His anger lasts only a moment,
But His favour lasts a lifetime;
Weeping may remain for a night,
But rejoicing comes in the morning.’
(Psalm 30 v5)