Today’s post is adapted from the chapter, “Healing AIDS,” in my book, Come Home: Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians (Harper & Row 1990, Chi Rho Press 1998).
During one Holy Week, I found myself immersed in grief at the widespread experience of death from AIDS in our community. A close friend infected with HIV and searching for spiritual hope commented on a 1989 Newsweek survey, “If half the clergy doesn’t believe there’s an afterlife, why should we?”
My pastor’s sermon on Easter Sunday was the kind of sermon I would have given, the kind that I have given in the past. Humorously confessing a desire to avoid heresy and controversy, she chose not to discuss whether there was a physical or spiritual resurrection of Jesus.
Instead, she focused on the question put to Mary Magdalene as she wept in the garden of his tomb. Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Mary’s grief blinded her at first to a vision of a living Christ. I recognized the connection with my present grief that was blinding me to a living God who is “God of the living, for all live to God,” in the words of Jesus refuting those who didn’t believe in resurrection.
Though my pastor’s Easter sermon was excellent, provocative, and comforting, it did not make me celebrative that day. Who was my friend infected with HIV looking for, and whom did I seek? Someone who would tell us that God loved us, loved us eternally, gave us life eternal.
My lover and I walked along the cliffs and beach of Santa Monica that afternoon. Santa Ana winds had cleared the sky, and the air was cold and crisp, the sea blue and choppy. But, unlike previous walks in this flood of God’s natural grace, the beauty did not heal my troubled soul.
At the end of our walk, we entered a bar named the S. S. Friendship to get some warming coffee. This had once been the gay writer Christopher Isherwood’s neighborhood hangout. Sitting down, I looked across the room at a vaguely familiar face. “John?” I said, just as he asked, “Chris?”
We had not seen each other for over five years. Typically, on seeing an old friend in our community, I thanked God to find him still alive. George and I invited him and his friend to join us. He seemed relaxed and content, and I was happy to discover that he had been with a lover for five years with whom he had bought a home. With so much death in our neighborhood, I enjoyed finding him well and happy and in a relationship.
He shared his spiritual journey. He reminded me that he had begun as a Catholic. I remembered that he had been a Lutheran shortly before joining the Presbyterian Church. Now he told us that most recently he’d been attending the Church of Religious Science.
“I got something I needed in each church, without getting involved in the garbage of each denomination,” he admitted. I envied, admired, and resented his ability to avoid the garbage, myself feeling buried in the Presbyterian refuse of committee meetings, petty bickering, and outrageous injustice toward gays and lesbians.
As I asked him about his lover, he said simply, “He died last week.” “AIDS?” I asked, astounded that even this idyllic picture could be shattered. “Yes,” he said. “He was diagnosed two years ago, and he used what time he had left to help others. It was wonderful to see. We had a good time together. I have no regrets. He died in my arms. I felt him leave his body. That’s why I’m sure I’ll see him again.”
As we later took our leave and I hugged John goodbye, I whispered in his ear, “Thank you for giving me the Easter message I needed to hear today.” I had somehow heard the gospel in a gay bar. Just as Mary had been called by name and thereby recognized the risen Christ, so I had been called by name and thereby witnessed a resurrection.
Last week’s post: Resurrection Today – Part One
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