Saturday, February 24: Shall We Gather at the River
Shall We Gather at the River was composed by Robert Lowry, a Baptist minister who reportedly preferred to be known for his preaching rather than his hymn-writing. The idea for this hymn came to him one July afternoon in 1864 when resting after being exhausted and drained by the heat. While lying down, Lowry began to have a vision of an apocalypse that transformed into a picture of a gathering of saints at the river flowing from Christ’s throne as described in Rev. 22:1 (Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city). Lowry wondered why so many hymn writers often referred to the “river of death” and seldom the “river of life.” Then he wondered what it would be like for all the saints to gather at the river in anticipation of joining with Christ. This led to the question: “Shall we gather” and the answer: “Yes, we’ll gather!” This hymn describes life as a journey and death/joining Christ as something we are able look forward to with anticipation.
Life’s journey on earth is different for each of us. Some soar through life with good health, jobs, money, family, friends, and minimal worries. Others are burdened with poor health, low-paying jobs, poverty, broken families, few friends, and difficulties that are hard for many of us to comprehend. Life isn’t fair, and no one knows why some are so well off and others are not. Some will say “You get back what you put into it” or “You need to work or try harder.” Others will say our lot in life is decided by God, or is the result of just plain luck (good and/or bad).
Is it possible that we are rewarded for being good Christians and only punished when we sin? How then do we explain the bad things that happen to good Christians, while those we perceive to be evil seem to enjoy great wealth and happiness? Certainly, there is an element of self-determination in our life’s journey. We make choices almost every day. Some turn out to be good, some turn out to be bad. We hopefully are rewarded in some way for the good choices and learn lessons from the bad. However, we cannot control everything. Death, for example, is not optional. What we Christians can control in this journey is how we use the gifts God has given us to work for and worship Him, recognizing that life on earth is temporary, and the ultimate goal is eternal life in heaven with God.
Personally, I am trying to replace the negative thoughts, anxiety, and fear of death (for myself and others) with positive ones of hope, happiness, and the joy awaiting us when gathering at the “river of life” and being surrounded by saints who have gone on before us:
Soon we’ll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.
Yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God.