Revelation 22 is the final chapter and offers the final images in the Bible, so it seems especially important to pay close attention. Before I took the time to read this passage about the river of life and the tree of life carefully, I always thought of the tree of life as I had seen it rendered by artists: a single, proud, tall tree with strong branches and plentiful fruit.
But a careful reading of this passage in Revelation reveals another image of the tree of life. This tree of life cannot have a single trunk but rather multiple trunks because it grows on “either side of the river.” How can this be? Perhaps its roots extend underneath the river that provides its nourishment and gives it life. Perhaps like giant redwoods, roots that interlock strengthen the tree against storms and wind. The tree of life seems more like a grove than a single trunk, spanning both sides of the river with branches bowing to each other.
Most artists’ interpretations of the tree of life do not include the river of life. If I had had to picture it prior to studying this passage, I would have put the river of life in the foreground and the tree of life on the far shore. But according to this passage the river runs through the middle of the tree of life.
So much of life seems to be aimed at getting to the other side of the river, whether that is job, family, or simply getting to the next phase of life. But God’s grace is not relegated only to a distant shore. This vision of the tree of life reminds us that God’s grace flourishes on both sides of the river, always in our midst. We are fed in each season by its fruit, and God’s life-giving power can transform us right where we are.
Holy God, remind us that we can find shelter in the tree of life wherever we are on our journey. Amen.