A number of years ago, I was giving a tour of Manhattan to visitors and the evening was getting late. I was driving up Central Park West and saw the Dakota. I stopped the car and said “do you guys want to see Strawberry Fields?” It is as you know a memorial to John Lennon. So as we left the car and headed into the darkness of Central Park, I was hoping that I hadn’t forgotten where it was. I was soon reminded by the fact that I could hear someone singing on a guitar, a Beatle’s tune. So as we turned the corner and arrived at the “Imagine Memorial”, there was quite a little crowd gathered in the dark with lots of candles on the ground and a few people singing. We were reminded by this coincidence that it was John Lennon’s birthday. How incredible to end up there by chance on his birthday. I’m reminded again of his birthday because on October 9th he would have turned 70. Is that possible? I guess it is because a lot of time has passed since this group of long haired singers from Liverpool came over and sang on the Ed Sullivan show along with touring America.
Of course we all blamed Yoko Ono for the end of the Beatles. But perhaps you can’t just stay in one place your whole life, you have to move on and reinvent yourself by doing new things. John did that by not only starting another band, singing solo, but also for a number of years became a house husband. In addition to being a house husband, he was a peace activist and had a social conscious that included helping the poor of New York City.
He was always interesting whether it was with the Beatles, raising his second son or taking some rather far out pictures of himself with wife, Yoko. He did manage to offend a number of Christians when he said “the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.” He tried to explain what he meant, but it’s all been forgotten now. I do remember looking at this monument and thinking about what could have happened had he not been murdered. But, like George Gershwin, Jimmy Hendrix and JFK, we’ll never know what might have happened and what they might have done, had they lived.
Death is the great equalizer. It is the one event that everyone in the world moves towards, whether you like it or not. Philosopher Martin Heidegger once wrote that all philosophy is about “every human being’s journey to death.” It is a reality that I as a minister face often when I stand at gravesites and speak words about someone who is being put in the ground. My words as a pastor are always words of hope because that’s what I believe. Death is not the end, but a door into a more mysterious and deeper world.
There are graves that I’ve made a point of visiting. I’ve been to Eva Perrone’s grave in Buenos Aires with a herd of cats at my feet, Jim Morrison’s in Paris at Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise with beer cans, cigarette butts and old hippies hanging out lighting candles. I guess no matter how large the monument or grave, the person is still dead.
So, as we all deal with loss and the reality of death, I’m reminded of the words that “we do not grieve as if we have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) As we approach All Saint’s Sunday, we’re reminded once again of those people who have touched our lives in huge ways. I’m not just thinking about those famous saints of old, but I’m thinking of those who have led quiet and wonderful examples of faith and goodness that have lifted our lives to new levels and inspired us to be better people and believers.
John Lennon had a song entitled “Imagine”. And in that song, he imagined a new world and a new world order and if you think deeply enough, he could be imagining heaven. After all, I’ve always agreed with Karl Barth who said “Christianity is not a religion, it is a faith.” Yes, Christianity is a faith that is about hope and that does not give up on people. It imagines a world where people aren’t struggling for possessions, at war with each other, a place where there’s no hunger, and where love has the final word. Lennon’s song has a self depreciating tone to it when he says “I know you think I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Well, as I see it, all those who became saints were dreamers of a better world, of a powerful message that we call the “Gospel” and of a different way of looking at how people need to treat each other.
As I think about sainthood, I’m always reminded of Luther’s famous phrase, “simul iustus et peccator” – same time sinner, same time saint. Most of the time I’m aware that I’m not a saint and don’t need to be reminded much that I’m a sinner. In the book, “Mother Teresa: Come be my Light”, Mother Teresa’s correspondence discusses her 50 year struggle with darkness and doubt and with the absence of God’s presence “If I ever become a saint, “ she wrote, “I will surely be one of darkness. I will continually be absent from heaven – to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”
You may call me a dreamer along with
John Lennon, but I find myself believing
in the dreamer who told us to be a light
in the darkness of this world.