Several firsts for me this past weekend. I was invited by a friend and colleague, Tracey Lind, to teach and preach at the cathedral in Cleveland, where she ably and artfully serves as Dean. I’ve known of her courageous and creative work for years, in Cleveland and other places, I was pleased and honored to see the place in action for the first time, a vibrant, diverse, inclusive community. In my experience, church isn’t always like that.
Another first. At 9am, I preached at a service with a colorful, wide-ranging musical palette. Yesterday was Beatle’s Mass. “Yellow Submarine” was not on the play list. “Help” perhaps should have been. But with the help of gifted musicians, we explored the liturgical and theological connections of songs like “Let it be” and “All you need is love.” During communion, music leaders and congregation sang “Imagine.” Given what I’ve read in the news of late, it was no wonder that John Lennon’s song brought tears to eyes, lumps in the throat, and wonderment about what a world of fulfilled imagination would look like.
I recalled the many times I’ve walked by the spot in New York where John Lennon’s life suddenly ended, yet another victim of senseless gun violence. I imagined what other songs might have come from his imagination had he been shielded from such deadly intention. I thought about the plaque in the pavement near his apartment, where the single word “Imagine” is embedded, where people make pilgrimage and keep vigil, sing songs, leave flowers and photos and notes, at all times of day.
In that song, John Lennon imagines a world that I might imagine differently. But I was struck with how his call to imagination was really a prayer (though I’m guessing his vision of prayer and God and theology was different than mine would be). In church, I was struck with how potent this song was for these people I didn’t know, how for the people who came forward for communion, there seemed to be a desire for a “better country” as the New Testament describes it (see the column on the left). I’d invite you to think this Monday morning about what you would imagine.
You see, this season of Advent is really about imagination, closely related to hope, closely related to prayer. The contemplation, the intentional quiet, the prayer during the weeks before Christmas are meant to help us imagine hope for a better world marked by peace and generosity. We need that. We have to grab it with intention.
Back to Cleveland. In the Beatle’s Mass, we also sang “Here comes the sun.” Because I’m such a cheesy punster, I thought about how this season anticipates the dawning of a new light with the birth of that son of Joseph and Mary: “Here comes the Son.” For those who feel called to follow Jesus, that journey includes imagination of a world marked by his grace, forgiveness, peace, welcome, inclusion. On this day (Dec. 7), a day that will live in infamy as we remember violence that expanded the war in 1941, take time to imagine something different, something more, something better. As you prepare for Christmas, imagine a new day, a new way: for yourself, your household, your community, our world. Let the imagination become a hope and in turn become a prayer, offered not only with your lips but with your life.
A reading from the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11:
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.