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Hymn 3 Shall We Gather at the River

Updated: May 3

Revelation 22:1-2




Text: Robert Lowry (1826-1899) Tune: Robert Lowry (1826-1899)



Robert Lowry

1. Shall we gather by the river,

Where bright angels' feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God.

R/Yes, we'll gather at the river,

The beautiful, the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints by the river

That flows by the throne of God.


2. On the margin of the river

Washing up its silver spray

We will talk and worship ever

All the happy, golden day.

R/


3. Ere we reach the shining river

Lay we every burden down

Grace our spirits will deliver

And provide a robe and crown.

R/


4. At the smiling of the river,

Mirror of the Savior’s face,

Saints whom death will never sever

Lift their songs of saving grace.

R/


5. Soon we'll reach the shining river,

Soon our pilgrimage will cease,

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of peace.

R/


MEDITATION

It was the summer of 1864. The Civil War was raging. New York, always in turmoil

about the war, was suffering financial panic because of it. The political conventions

had just met. Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet were derided in the streets as jokes.

His reelection seemed unlikely. To make things worse, the last weeks of July New

York suffered a terrible heat wave. People were dying from heat strokes. Life

seemed uncertain and frightening. Pastors were having to answer tough questions

from their parishioners about what they should believe.


Robert Lowry (1826-1899), pastor at Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, and

a prolific composer of Gospel songs, was troubled by their questions. One day he sat

down at the piano, and a tune and text came to him. “Shall We Gather at the River,” a

reflection on Revelation 22:1-2. “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.” Lowry took these images to give his people, and

himself, hope. No matter how dark things are for us here on earth, what happens

here is not the last word. Jesus is.


The tune became one of the great American tunes of all time. The Swede Joel

Blomquist used the tune for a text inspired by the American text, but it is not a

translation. In it he imagines we are like the exiles in Babylon wondering about

singing a song of Zion. Psalm 137 expresses the feelings of the exiles as they think of

Jerusalem. Never forget: We are pilgrims here; this is not our permanent home.

Jesus is. He has gone to prepare a place for us. It shines before us in this hymn.


HYMN INFO

The Swedish version, "Å Hvor Salig at få Vandre" (it is in the Norwegian Hymnal 2013,

no 858) is here. It is sung by the Leif Strand Kammerkor in a jazz setting by some of

Sweden’s greatest jazz musicians of the past century. It was one of my very favorite

records, remember those? I brought it home from Sweden in the 1970s.


LINKS

https://youtu.be/qHnONVIXQwc


Aaron Copeland set the American text with its original tune, making it into an art

song. The song has become a major piece on the repertoire of every singer today.

Marilyn Horne’s version is breathtaking!

https://youtu.be/mD29EM0eJ



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