We can think of Psalm 137 as a “homesickness” psalm. After being conquered by the Babylonians, the Israelites are brought into a foreign land. There, they suffer from homesickness, and weep bitterly:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion; on the poplars that grew there we hung up our harps. (Psalm 137:1-6)
They are so homesick that their own captors try to cheer them up by suggesting that they sing songs about their own homeland. But in this circumstance, to sing songs about their homeland would be unbearable: “O how could we sing the song of the Lord on alien soil?” The memories of their lost homeland is painful, and yet, they resolve to never lose these memories: “If I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not, if I prize not Jerusalem above all my joys!” Rather than singing the old songs, they invent a new song to never forget Jerusalem, no matter what happens.
This song of homesickness is applicable to us as well, not insofar as we are homesick for the earthly Jerusalem, but insofar as we are homesick for the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will “wipe away every tear” from our eyes:
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be nor more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:2-4).
We are homesick for heaven, for, as in the words of St. Paul, “our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20) ” and “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).” Notice that St. Paul uses the word “home” here in reference to heaven.
Of course, we have never been to heaven. So how is it possible to be homesick for a place where we have never been? We are homesick for heaven, not because we have memories of heaven, but because God has planted within us a deep desire to be there. As in the words of Ecclesiastes, God “has put eternity into the mind of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11).” We are homesick for heaven, not as the place from which we came, but as the place for which we are made. C.S. Lewis has drawn from this the conclusion that heaven will feel like “home” when we arrive:
Your soul has a curious shape because it is… a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions… Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it – made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (London: Geoffrey Bles: The Centenary Press, 1942), 135-136).
Moreover, just as the presence of “family” is integral to an earthly home, so also, our family of saints and angels is integral to our eternal home. Here on earth, we even carry around holy cards – “keepsake photographs,” as it were – of our family members.
So when it feels like the world is dark and cold, let us warm our hearts by rekindling within ourselves the joy of being homesick for heaven. “There is one thing I ask of the Lord, for this I long, to life in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life (Psalm 27:4).”