by Rev. Brad Sheppard, Immanuel Presbyterian Church
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
A couple nights ago I dreamed of walking in a garden of spring flowers. The time was not yet spring but still January. I recall myself surrounded by all sorts of blooming flowers, but I particularly remember all the tulips and peonies. In the dream I felt the beauty and serenity of the garden while also feeling some concern over the flowers freezing in the remaining days of winter. There was a certain strangeness to a place where flowers bloomed in January yet also such wonder and delight. Maybe the Spirit knew I needed such a dream—an unexpected yet welcome vision.
In the depths of winter when the cold sets in, skies are grey and the ground barren; I need some sure reminder of what will come. I need to remember that not only will these days pass but that these days are a period of preparation for the life-giving, beautiful days just around the corner. I need to remember to focus my gaze beyond the bleakness of now and watch with intention for breaks in the ground and buds on the trees. The fullness of life is upon me if I can be patient.
As readers of the Bible, we often flee from the book of Revelation—what with its signs of doom and beasts of destruction. But when we do persist to the end of the book (and the end of the Bible) we find verses that sing with promise, hope, new beginnings, and peace. The verses above are a part of the final vision of Revelation—the city of God nourished by the river of life and the tree of life that gives persistent, perennial fruit month after month. This city is a place where there will be no thirst or hunger; all be satisfied and well.
The first century Christians who received and heard the book of Revelation found themselves a persecuted minority in the vast, oftentimes repressive, world of the Roman Empire. Their situation appeared bleak. Revelation promised them that suffering would not be their end; rather, a regenerated world in harmony with God awaited them. The fullness of life was upon them if they could be patient.
What about you? Is the bleakness of winter and pandemic wearing you down? I invite you to lift your gaze above what is and see what will be. May the Spirit grant you renewed vision in these days of the beauty that is to come and the promises of God to be fulfilled.