THE OLD LONG TIME AGO by Pastor Ken Rickett

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Should old acquaintance be forgot since the Days of Old Long time ago” is one translation in English of the Scottish lyrics penned by poet Robert Burns of Scotland. The poem depicts a couple of men, likely childhood friends, meeting together in a pub after years of being distant. This gap in their relationship is not intentional, rather, it is because, for each of them, life has taken them on their own path. Perhaps a chance encounter at a pub, they desire to chat with each other. So, each orders a drink and each “takes a cup of kindness for auld lang syne,” with memories of the days of long ago. One senses the emotion of joy in re-uniting, but the stronger emotion is one of wistful regret because of the years when “old acquaintances were forgotten.”

In August 2017, I was back in my hometown of Andrews, North Carolina because the total eclipse of the sun was centered directly over the small town. People came from everywhere, including some from foreign countries. The main street of town was closed, and vendors, bounce houses, kiddie rides, food kiosks, etc. lined the streets. When wandering around, by chance, I heard someone call my name. It was an old high school classmate, and she and I hugged. Both of us had just bought a cold drink, and the conversation went as one would expect…” I haven’t seen you in ages! (What a delight!) …. ”Do you have a family?”…”where are you living now?” …what have you been doing (i.e., what profession or career have you been engaged?”). 

All too quickly, by the time we had sipped our drinks down, she had to get back to the booth in which she was a volunteer and I needed to find my wandering family. I have a distinct memory, after we parted, of recalling this old poem of Robert Burns entitled “Auld Lang Syne.” Before the day was out, I had met 4 or 5 of my old classmates (out of a class of 74 people) and delight was experienced in meeting them, but the wistful thoughts of “Old Acquaintances of Long Ago” came to my mind unbidden.

“Auld Lang Syne” speaks volumes about “chronos” (Greek) time; that is, the measurement of time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, etc. One minister, in a sermon I heard, said “time keeps everything from happening at once.” Because time exists, we have a lifespan, time to rear a family, time to earn a living, time to rest, time to engage in hobbies, time to worship, time to form friendships, time to pursue our dreams (and in so doing, some relationships slide into “old acquaintances), etc. As relentless as the tide breaks against the shore, time, too, is relentless, stopping for no one.

With “chronos” time passing so methodically (tick-tock, tick-tock, etc.), if the truth be told, it is not time itself that shapes our lives, but the choices that we make at various points in time. Case in point: at the close of my senior year in college, I applied for one of the eleven scholarships to for a two-year master’s degree for teaching the deaf, I got a letter saying that I was the 12th in line, and if any of the eleven persons who got the scholarships were to drop out, I would be the next selection. Then, I got an offer from the high school in which I did my student teaching to take a position with them for the next fall. The Social Services department of my home county asked if I would consider a job with them. A letter came saying that I had been accepted at the Southeastern Seminary. I chose to attend the Seminary and the choice I made at that point in time has shaped my life and my career. Without that choice, odds are high that my path may have never crossed with Central Christian Church of Anderson, IN. In “Auld Lang Syne” the two men meeting in a pub after “all these years apart”, were men who made choices at various points in their lives, and in time, their relationship became merely that of an “auld acquaintance.

Over the years Auld Lang Syne has become the song that welcomes the new year when the ball falls at midnight on Times Square as December 31 becomes January 1st. However, the emphasis of this song is not on time gone by and renewal of old times and relationships.

A cup of kindness yet says it all. Kindness toward old friends and acquaintances, and kindness toward oneself. 2024 will be a year in which a cup of kindness should be served in every home, in every community gathering, every national institution, every international summit… 

And Jesus took the cup (of kindness) and blessed it, declaring that sin is forgiven.