The Germans seem to have a knack for coining words that somehow catch up the meaning of a common experience but have no decent equivalent in English. Where would we be without being able to borrow schadenfreude, or blitzkrieg, or angst, or even kindergarten? I’ll use that as an excuse to show you this photo, and perhaps introduce the word sehnsucht to you.
This photo is of my family in the moments just after we discovered a department store chain in Berlin that shared our name. It was a fun moment, and now when I see the picture, it takes me back to a nice memory, and the great day that followed – which included, as it happens, seeing the lion in the picture Lauren found for our new sermon series. There’s a coincidence for you!
Sehnsucht is sometimes translated as ‘nostalgia’ for us, and for sure, looking back fondly on something is a form of sehnsucht. But more literally, the word speaks of an aching longing to see something – which means it can refer to seeing something again, but equally a longing for what is yet to be seen. A child yet to be born, or a new home still being built, or even the face of Christ on the last day. We know the feeling, but perhaps never knew the word.
But we have to be careful here. Sure, as human beings, we often long to see. For all of us at St Michael’s, it’s something that’s been very present for us as we remember all the years that the Grants ministered among us, and remember with great joy. There’s been a whiff of sehnsucht around the place, and no surprises there.
So why take care? Well, because of one of the very earliest instances of sehnsucht in the Bible, in Genesis 19 – where Lot’s wife looked back towards her former home in the town of Sodom, and was turned into a pillar of salt. She was longing for the wrong thing, and it cost her.
You may think me a bit of a wet blanket here, but I’m actually stealing from Sandy, and the closing words of his message at the farewell on Saturday. “What I ought to do is actually not to pray that this would be the best, but that the best years might still be ahead.” He reminded us that the future is astonishingly good. To only look backwards is to be too easily satisfied.
Sandy was right: for us as Christians, we know a true sehnsucht – a longing to see God’s kingdom come in all its fullness. Our hearts burst as we anticipate being with Christ ‘which is better by far’. Our memories are vivid, and may pull us to look behind us; our hopes are greater still, and call us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Lion of Judah, our true and glorious king.