Shall we gather at the river? There are a few rivers to choose from in this month's reflection. Rivers found in both the Christian Aid Week story and the Revised Common Lectionary readings for May.
The angel of death river
At 1,800 miles long, the Brahmaputra river flows through Tibet, India and Bangladesh. Every year, when the snows at its source in the Himalayas melt, they can cause catastrophic flooding. It has been described as being 'like the angel of death. It destroys everything. It leaves nothing untouched'.
This description comes from Morsheda, a Char dweller. Chars are islands that grow up and out of the river. Morsheda also told Christian Aid that once when the river rose, flooding her and her children out of their home, she had to put her baby in a cooking bowl and float her down the river to safety.
She explained how she once raised their bed on bricks to avoid the flood waters, and how one night her baby, Murshid, fell off the bed and into the water. He could have drowned. You can understand then why she describes the mighty river as being 'like the angel of death'.
This evoking of the imagery of an angel echoes the reading from Revelation found at the beginning of the lectionary readings for May.
The river of the water of life
'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 trees are for the healing of the nations.' (Revelations 22:1-2)
Rather than seeing the river as an angel of death, John of Patmos is led by an angel to see 'the river of the water of life'.
‘The attraction of this river draws us to give, act and pray to support the work of Christian Aid's partners.'
Rather than destroying everything that it touches, this river waters the tree of life in a recreated urban garden of Eden. The trees provide everlasting fruit to feed all who hunger and the leaves provide healing for all nations, including Bangladesh.
While this 'river of the water of life' belongs to the future, flowing through a restored and renewed earth, it is, in the words of theologian Richard Bauckham, 'a vision that exercises its attraction already'.
It is the attraction of this river that draws us to give, act and pray to support the work of Christian Aid's partners. In doing so we partner with them to bring about restoration, renewal and recreation in the here and now.
Partners like GUK, who are working to help the Char dwellers in Bangladesh and who are the focus of our attention this Christian Aid Week. Through their efforts communities have become more resilient, self-sufficient, and knowledgeable about how to live – and even thrive – in the toughest of environments.
'As I went down to the river to pray'
There is a third river found in the first readings for May - the river that flows outside the gates of Philippi that Paul and those with him go to on the Sabbath expecting to find a place to pray (Acts 16:13). It is by the river that they sit down and speak with those women who had gathered there.
This month we too can gather at the Brahmaputra river with women like Morsheda, as we participate in Christian Aid Week.
We can also gather on the banks of the river of the water of life as we renew our vision of how the earth could be.
We encourage you to take some time this month to gather or walk by a river near where you live. Take time to pray there for restoration, recreation, renewal and for all who live at the mercy of the mighty river. Perhaps singing as you go.
Find out more about Morsheda's story and download worship resources for Pentecost and Christian Aid Sunday.