Sacred Music Sunday: Shall We Gather at the River?

One of my favorite books of scripture is the book of Revelation. People tend to look at me funny when I say that because it has kind of a reputation as being the book of death and destruction. In other languages, it’s called “Apocalypse”, which really just means “Revelation”, but the word apocalypse has come to signify mayhem, chaos, and the end of life as we know it. I see the book, however, in the same light as superhero movies. There’s an epic battle between good and evil, which does include some death and destruction, but in the end, good wins.

And after good wins, the righteous get to rest.

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:

And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.

And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5
Baptism at the Jordan River – Wikimedia Commons

So, as much as the book of Revelation contains destruction and mayhem, I still see it as a story of hope for a better world. One hymn that I love that really captures the rest that the righteous await is Shall We Gather at the River?. I first became acquainted with this hymn back in the summer of 2000. I was in a choir that was preparing for an international tour, and this was one of the songs we were going to sing. We spent weeks rehearsing it. It ended up getting cut from the program, but it stuck with me. The line “Soon we’ll reach the shining river. Soon our pilgrimage will cease.” has gotten me through many trials in life that have seemed endless at the time.


  1. One of the most gorgeous hymns with such a calming message. I love the imagery of the flowing water. I love the folk melody of the tune. This is one of my favorites! But I hadn’t put it together with the text from revelation before, thanks for sharing that!

  2. I am late to this, but I wanted to point out that the phrase living water refers to water that moves, such as a river. The Lord is the living water.

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