Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
[Psalm 126:2 New Revised Standard Version]
a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time:
The origin of the word nostalgia comes from a combination of two Greek words – nostos, meaning “return home”; and algos, meaning “pain”.
It is, to me at least, different from simply remembering because we tend to idealize and romanticize the particular occasion far beyond what it really was. It becomes in our mind something that was too good to be true – which it most likely was.
Eugene Peterson, in The Message, interprets psalm 126:2 as follows:
We laughed, we sang,
we couldn’t believe our good fortune.
We were the talk of the nations—
It calls to mind the Israelites in the wilderness and their complaints to Moses, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Exodus 16:3 NRSV]
Immigrants, and even refugees to a certain extent, often express a longing for their homeland despite the fact that they may have left to escape conditions of abject poverty or violent oppression. It is human nature to want to cling to the familiar, the known, even if conditions were far less than ideal.
Almost nowhere is that more often played out than in the church. We tend to be stuck in the past, our minds returning over and over again to those thrilling days of yesteryear. That’s why anniversary celebrations become excessively sentimental about the good old days.
The distinguished Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, in a sermon titled, “Power to Remember, Freedom to Forget,” tells the story of a church in New York City that used to hold a Strawberry Festival which filled the church’s basement with excitement and lots of people. However, in recent years, attendance had declined to the point that only about 24 people would show up. Yet the church would continue to set up tables for 200 people, and many uneaten strawberries.
Brueggemann suggests that the loss of the old scares us because we feel threatened and displaced. Nobody knows what lies ahead, which creates uncertainty and anxiety. Too often, congregations hang on far beyond their ability to do faithful ministry, simply hanging on, surviving. If they have an endowment, they spend down to the last penny instead of using those resources for a more useful purpose.
I’m thinking about this as we in the ELCA prepare to engage in conversations about the future directions of our church. I wrote about this in my posts of March 4 and 6. (Click HERE to read the March 4 post, and HERE for the March 6 post.)
I pray that this is not seen by our faithful as a way to go back to Egypt, or making our church “great again.” I pray that we truly look at what possibilities lie ahead, that we make the obedient human investment to think freshly toward the future, and think broadly about our mission to God’s people on this earth.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, to what is God calling us? That is the question that should constantly be on our lips, in our minds, and in our hearts.
The Lord is faithful. The Lord has done great things for us. Let us rejoice.