It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Beads of all colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue. Long frizzy hair on girls and boys, men and women. Tie-dyed shirts and dresses. Bell bottoms. Drugs, folk songs, rock and roll. Sexual liberation. Psychedelic colors swirling, undulating on posters and record album covers. Flower power. Free love.
I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.
The 1960s washed over this country like a tsunamic wave, carrying at its core rebellion against the establishment, protests, lie-ins, sit-ins. Anti-Vietnam war, pro civil rights, pro women’s liberation. Some of us lived through that time. Others of you have no doubt been told about it and read about it.
The age of free love. Jesus’ proclamation that he has the power to lay down his own life and take it back up again sounds like free love in some ways, doesn’t it? He’s free to do what he wants with his own life. But free? Clearly not: Jesus’ love and redemption of us cost him mightily – with suffering, death and entombment. How do we come to understand more about the difference between free love – when one can theoretically have multiple relationships with others with no commitment to any one person – and Jesus’ model of being free to love?
As we’ve talked about before, a theologian I knew years ago described God as “infinitely courteous.” God doesn’t foist God’s self on us, Jesus doesn’t foist himself on us. God invites us to love and be loved but doesn’t coerce us into making it happen. We are free to follow Jesus or not, forgive or not, love or not. As Jesus said, he had the power to lay down his own life and to take it up again. And God, in God’s limitless generosity of spirit and graciousness, gives us the freedom to respond to God’s love in our own way.
Most if not all of us know how it feels when we think we’re being pushed, coerced, into doing something we don’t want to do. Sophie Elberfeld demonstrated such a reaction last week. Sophie is about five years old and weighs 13 pounds in her long haired calico gloriousness. She’s a member of my son and his partner’s family, and she visited her grandmother – that would be me – last week.
I had been warned that Sophie doesn’t like to be picked up, but I thought it would be good to show her where her food was. So, I bent down, lifted her up and got her off the floor by about an inch when she began to protest, and I became aware that it’s a lot harder to pick 13 pounds up off the floor than I thought! Sophie got away from me, then turned to hiss and growl – she literally had a hissy fit – and, when she was finished admonishing me, made her escape up the stairs. She was having none of it.
But then after Jesus’ suffering, death and entombment, we know that he rose again, appeared to the disciples, and they believed that he had triumphed over death and would be with us forevermore. After suffering and entombment came the resurrection.
Many of you may watch the BBC program “Call the Midwife” chronicling the stories of a group of midwives in a very poor area of London during the 1900s. In a recent episode, a man who thought he had small pox was trying to find shelter in their little community and trying to stay hidden because of his disease. Reggie, a regular character in the show, a teen with Down Syndrome, discovered the man and introduced himself to him, reaching out his hand to shake the hand of the sick man. Ade, shrunken in the dark, tells Reggie that he must not touch him because he, too, could get sick. Reggie tells Phyllis, one of the midwives, where to find Ade, and she goes to tend to him and brings him back to Nonnatus House, where the group of midwives lives. And there, Sister Monica Joan, the oldest of the midwives who moves in and out of lucidity, formed a strong spiritual bond with Ade and shared time in their chapel with him talking about their common faith. Reggie and the midwives did not have to love Ade, touch him, bring them into their house. They were free to love or not to love. And they chose to love.
We, too, are free to love. We don’t have to be kind to our friends, we don’t have to welcome newcomers to our neighborhoods and faith communities into our embrace, we don’t have to support and lift up our family members. But we know that we are free to. And that to be free to do anything is a privilege. A privilege to love. A privilege to be free to love. A privilege to take part in the continual dawning of the age of love.