Nearly 50 years ago, John Lennon recorded Now and Then in his New York City apartment. Using nothing more than a boombox and his own piano, Lennon wrote what would become the Beatles' final song some five decades later. Lennon recorded the track through a single mono microphone, resulting in low quality audio that the band declined to release as part of their 1995 Anthology project.
Recent advances in AI made it possible to revisit Lennon's recording, isolating all aspects of the recording as separate tracks. This allowed the surviving two Beatles to add new vocals and guitar atop suddenly crystal clear audio, as if John were in the stuido with them today.
As I have listened and re-listened to Now and Then, I’ve read into the backstory of the song: Lennon’s composition, perhaps written as a statement of love and loss directed at Paul. The band’s decision not to release the track as part of the 1990s Anthology project. And finally, the arrival of new AI technology that allowed McCartney and Starr to finish and release the chart-topping track.
And as I listen and read about the Beatles’ closing song, I can’t help but think that this track resembles, in no small way, what a life of faith looks like: our small efforts contributing to invisible transformation, one we glimpse in part yet do not experience in full.
American theologian Reinhold Neibuhr said:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope… Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Neibuhr’s quote had echoes of Martin Luther, who wrote in the Small Catechism that “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.”
God’s Kingdom breaks in slowly and silently. Our efforts, love, and service feel fragmentary and incomplete. Yet like John Lennon’s recording, they provide the raw material that will one day produce something wonderful, moving, even transformative. They become catalysts to future reversals and redemption that we may not be around to witness.
The Kingdom of God is like a Beatles song, released 50 years later in a way Lennon never would have expected. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, this powerful play goes on, and we may contribute a verse. Whether or not we see that verse added to song, whether or not we hear that song inspire and delight, the song comes nonetheless.
The Kingdom of God is like a Beatles song. We create our verses. We may not ever press play on their recording. But they join the inevitable song of a band of witnesses, proclaiming grace, goodness, redemption - messages the world needs, both now and then.
@ryanpanzer writes about technology, religion, and servant leadership. He is an avid Beatles fan.