Sermon for Sunday May 26th, 2019, the Fifth Sunday after Easter, or Rogation Sunday


The Lessons: Psalm 67; Acts 16:9-15; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5; John 14:23-29

The Text: Revelation 22:1-5

The Topic: The River of Life and the Tree of Life


Rogationtide probably originated in the fifth century in Vienne, France, when earthquakes and storms threatened the town’s food supply. In response to this, the Bishop of that town called his people to prayer, and vowed to institute processions in which the faithful would petition God for seasonable weather conducive to good crops. These processions took place on the three days before Ascension Day. The storms ceased, and Rogationtide began to be observed widely, and was ordered as an annual observance in England in the eighth century. [1] The word “Rogation” comes from the Latin word rogare, meaning “to ask”. Rogationtide, which includes the Fifth Sunday after Easter and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday following, has come to be a time when the Church not only prays for the success of agriculture, but also for industry and commerce. Now it is right to pray for seasonable rains, as well as for the proper and just use of land, water and all the resources that God has given us, so that the economy may prosper, and all people in this land may receive its blessings. It is necessary now that we do not assume there is no need to ask God for all these blessings. In an age of trade wars, natural disasters, and in times when economic prosperity for most people is elusive, the Church needs to pray for the success of agriculture, industry and commerce. Ultimately we depend on God for so many blessings we take for granted in our lives. Our Lord, in John 14:13 (KJV), tells his disciples:

And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.


In John 16:23b (KJV), the Lord again declares:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.


Also, in Luke 11:9-13, the Lord gives his disciples this encouragement, using the examples of a son asking his father for bread, fish and an egg:

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Not only will God hear and grant the prayers of his servants who ask him for these ordinary necessities of life, but he will also and especially grant the prayers of those who ask him for the Holy Spirit. If Rogationtide is a reminder to ask God for the ordinary blessings of life, and for the means to earn the money to meet our needs and to help others, then we must remember also to ask God for the Holy Spirit, the Water of Life.


In the Book of Genesis, we first encounter the symbol of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden together with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). The tree of life became inaccessible to Adam and Eve after they had partaken of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3), and cherubim and a flaming sword guarded the way to the tree of life. Here in Revelation 22:1-5 a totally different scene appears. This is the new heaven and new earth of God’s creating (Rev. 21). The scene is prophesied in Ezekiel 47:12, which speaks of trees used for food, whose leaves never wither and whose fruit never fails, because they are fed from the water flowing from God’s sanctuary. This really is a description of the tree of life, as shown to us in Revelation 22, where the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).

Significantly, the first feature we encounter in the 22nd chapter of the Book of Revelation is “the pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev. 22:1, NKJV). In the dry world of the Middle East, the water of an oasis, or of a river is a welcome blessing to the hot, tired, and thirsty traveler. It made great sense to depict God in terms of life-giving water, and to this day it still does.

This picture of the river of the water of life inspired the writer of the Hymn, “Shall we gather at the river…?”

The Rev. Robert Lowry, thirty-eight, ministered in New York City during that terrible period in 1864 when the plague was sweeping away multitudes of citizens. When he wasn’t visiting sick members of his Hanson Place Baptist Church, he was conducting funerals. One hot July day, Lowry himself was near collapse, exhausted, dispirited. Reaching for a scrap of paper, he began composing a poem; then, at his organ, he composed the music for it. It spoke of his hope to meet his suffering and dying parishioners in heaven, down by the River of Life.

Shall we gather at the river,

Where bright angel feet have trod?

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God?


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. [2]

The pure river of water of life represents the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. In symbolic form, then, this opening verse of the Book of Revelation presents to us the Holy Trinity of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, at the center of the New Jerusalem. The second feature, which here depends on the first, is the tree of life growing on either side of the river of life, a tree yielding twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month, and its leaves for the healing of the nations. In other words, there is no month when the tree of life bears no fruit. It is continually bearing fruit. In this present age, we pray for abundant crops and harvests in their seasons, knowing that no crops or fruit, or nuts can really be harvested month after month from the same field or orchard. The picture given us here in the Book of Revelation is of a new world, in which there is continuous harvest, continuous growth. Instead of stores lining the main street of heaven, where one has to purchase food, abundant food, healing and life are provided continually for all. In this life, we often pray and ask God for healing for those we love, and for ourselves, but in the age to come, God freely provides healing for all through the leaves of the tree of life, which is fed by the pure water of life, the Holy Spirit. Some may think we are healed instantaneously when we die and our spirits enter the Lord’s presence, but the leaves of the tree of life still provide healing in the age to come. These wonders are God’s answers to all our prayers, petitions and intercessions.

A further answer to prayer is that in heaven and in the New Jerusalem there will be no curse, nothing bringing or inflicting evil, nor anything nor anyone bearing malice or evil, since no such evil can exist in the glory of God’s presence. Instead, God’s throne and the throne of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ will be in it and his servants will serve him, and see his face. This is called the vision of the blessed, or the beatific vision of God. Because of the extreme brilliance of God’s light and glory, there will be no need for the sun, and no changing of day into night. The faithful who have persevered will receive their light from the Lord God and shall reign forever and ever (Rev. 22:5).

For some people, this picture in Revelation 22 may seem far off, and in the distant future; nonetheless, it must inspire both our prayers and our witness for Christ. We must live with this glorious hope of everlasting life in the City of God, in the New Jerusalem, and we must pray, work and live for this transcendent goal.


Rogationtide is a season of solemn prayer for agriculture, industry and commerce. Yet in praying for material blessings, and for the success of all we undertake in this country of the United States, let us also pray for the salvation of all whose lives we touch, that by God’s grace, many may come to the eternal joy of everlasting life with the Lord Jesus Christ in the age to come.


[2] p. 421, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Illustrations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007.

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