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The Celestial City

There is a French hymn, number 250 in the Chant D'esperance, that's been stuck in my mind since listening to the funeral of a dear friend yesterday morning. French poetry doesn't sound so good in English, but I have tried...

Do you know of this city?

The Celestial City.

All is clear within its walls

No more evil shadows.

Pilgrims and travelers,

In the middle of your pain

Rest for us always remains

The Celestial City.

Do you know of this city?

Oh this Blessed City

Everything up there is bliss

Sublime harmony.

The Lamb of God the only sun,

With a light beyond compare

Illuminating, giving life

To the Blessed City.

Oh the gold, pearls, and azure

This is our true homeland.

Do you know the river pure?

And the tree of life?

Burdens gone forevermore

For the saved eternal peace

Of God, and this beloved city

This is our true homeland.

Oh, Salem, oh sweetest rest

You're my heart's desire.

For our Leader, our true Spouse

All God's Church is sighing.

To forever rest with you

My Savior and my King Divine

To sing for you and tell you that:

You're my heart's desire.

To me, the message of this song is worth a thousand sermons, Sunday school lessons, and eloquent books on spirituality. Because if we truly know The Celestial City, living our lives gets a lot simpler.

When we truly understand that what happens after death is more important than what happens before, we have clarity. We can stay free from comparing with others and getting tangled up in trivial problems. Even very large problems and tragic circumstances beyond our control seem less hopeless. And the little sacrifices we make to be sure we have a place in Heaven suddenly do seem little to us.

There's a story I've heard about my Grandpa Nichols. A wealthier family member was asking if he had any travel plans for the year. Grandpa spent many years in Mexico as a missionary and also had a family of 10 children to take care of. He replied with a bit of force, "I'm going to the Celestial City." Apparently that settled the matter.

I remember Grandpa sitting by the fire behind his shop, raising both hands high toward the Arizona stars, and singing, "Oh city eternal swing your gates open wide!" I think he knew quite a bit about The Blessed City. I've been with many people like that. Their homes, their attitudes, and their lifestyles are always giving you little glimpses of what's important to them. Their Heart's Desire is evident and beautiful.

There are other people very dear to me that have things a bit mixed up right now. I would just love to take them by the shoulders and sing this song to them; to look into their eyes and make the message settle into their heart.

I know it doesn't work that way. Our vision has to be personal. But my wish for you all today is that you would really understand that the Celestial City is your homeland.

Here's a link to the song if you want to listen to it.

Just know that you haven't really heard it unless you've sang along at a Haitian Mennonite funeral or lived by a little house church that fills the neighborhood with beautiful French music every single evening.

Maybe in Heaven I'll be able to sing perfectly in French. Because that would be just lovely. And nothing short of a miracle.

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