It was twenty years ago that John Lennon died. On December 8th 1980, Lennon was shot and killed in New York. For many in my generation, this was a defining moment. I had just completed dental school and was starting work. The music of the Beatles played a key role in the soundtrack of my adolescent life.
Lennon’s death meant that the Beatles would never get back together again. There was to be no backward look at the innocence of adolescence. We had no choice. We had to move on. We had to grow up.
Even then Lennon’s music helped capture the struggle for meaning as one moved into adulthood. As the darker of the dynamic song writing duo of the Beatles, Lennon catalogued well the more painful side of life.
“Cold Turkey” captured the anguish of drug withdrawal. “Jealous Guy’, arguably his best song, reminded us that even in the Eden of love, there lurked the serpent of destructive jealousy. In “Mother” he wailed for a maternal love he never had and created a theme song for all dysfunctional families. “Woman Is The Nigger of the World” was his contribution to the cause of feminism.
Lennon’s prescription for the pains of life was to ‘Imagine’. (I received the LP as a present on my 18th birthday.)
Imagine there’s no heaven,
it’s easy if you try
No hell below us,
above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today, ah-ahImagine there’s no countries,
it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for,
and no religion, too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…
The song was hypnotic and reverberated with universal concerns for peace and healing. But Lennon”s means to achieving this peace turned out to be nothing more than “Mind Games”, an exercise in imagination which was not rooted in reality. In the throws of love, he would later sing:
Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
When our time has come
we will be as one.
God bless our love
God bless our love.
(Grow Old With me)
At the end of the day, Lennon was still human, defined by the need for the two basic relationships of all humankind – the need to relate to man and to God.
Imagine there is no heaven? No, we need to know that there is a heaven and a God in heaven who is intimately concerned with the pains and the wounds of humankind. And who came down to rescue us and to give us life.
In the words of another John: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. John 1:29 NRSV.
In Lennon”s whimsical, cynical song about Christmas, all he can offer us is fun:
And so this is Christmas
And what have we done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so happy Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young.
I hope you have fun? I think we can do better. We can celebrate the fact that God has drawn near to rescue us and to give us fullness of life. And in celebrating, we find new hope and courage for our lives.