Antiques and Our Heritage (5): The Idea of an Abiding City

Five weeks ago we began to quote from a selection by John J. Timmerman, former English professor at Calvin College, found in a collection of his writings titled Markings on a Long Journey (Baker, 1982). It is an article he originally wrote for The Banner in September of 1972, and includes his thoughts on some things “old, precious, and beautiful” in the Reformed tradition.

Markings on long journey-TimmermanThe first one is the “antithesis”; the second one is “a sense of sin”; and the third one is “the priority of the sermon in our Sunday services”; the fourth one is “the importance of Christian education.” And now the final one Timmerman mentions is “the idea of an abiding city”. In other words, the Christian’s real hope.

I will let him explain it. Then we should dwell on it. Maybe especially as we end another week and look forward to our foretaste of our everlasting rest tomorrow.

The port Sandburg once said, when he was young and didn’t know any better and before he had written six fat volumes on Lincoln, that the ‘past is a bucket of ashes.’ When the past is over it is finished. burnt out – ashes to blow with the winds to anywhere. All the past is done, including human life. But the Christian believes that the past in the deepest spiritual sense is the beginning and determines the future.

I was poignantly reminded of this when I visited the country graveyard where my grandfather is buried/ There was a remarkable difference in the gravestones. The newer ones bore merely a name and a date, a terse statement of transitory existence now finished. But the older graves had upon their frail and fading headstones a constantly recurring text in a language I heard so often in boyhood: ‘Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herron sterben’ (Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord), and I thought, ‘This is it,’ a trust that defies the last humiliation with infinite hope; on the eroding stones covering remorseless decay were words of profound promise. The later graves in Gray’s words ‘Implore the passing tribute of a sigh,’ but the earlier ones gave rise to a thrill of hope and meaning and victory in the face of apparently utter defeat.

What will be the witness of your gravestone and mine? The “passing tribute of a sigh”, or ” a trust that defies the last humiliation with infinite hope”?

Yet, this is first, is it not? What is the confession of our heart, mouth, and life right now?