The Hope of Easter
Spirituality Column #9
When I was diagnosed with terminal AIDS, KS, and lymphoma in 1984, I was serving as Associate Pastor of a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). The pastor invited me to preach the Easter sermon. My immediate response was, "They told me I'm dying. Don't you think I should preach the Good Friday sermon?" And he said, "No, you need to preach Easter." It was the most valuable gift anyone could have given me.
As someone who was told he was facing death soon, I had to think seriously about what it meant to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I had thought it through before, during my years in seminary, but this diagnosis presented a more immediate challenge to my faith, and made the examination of my faith urgently crucial.
First of all, my faith in the Resurrection gave me a comforting reassurance that there is life after death. I needed that comfort, and I clung to that reassurance. I had not yet had my "near-death" experience (see "Hope at the Hospice"), and I was still scared, but Easter gave me a way to handle that fear. Like a mantra, I repeated John 11:25 over and over, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, they shall live."
As I thought further, I realized that through Jesus, God understood exactly what I was going through. Jesus faced death at an early age, abandoned by many of his friends and family, and dying in an ugly, painful way. Jesus had faced similar circumstances to what I was facing. And Easter shows us that his death was not the end of the story!
Because I realized that God understood my pain, my grief, and my fears, it was easier to share them with God, to feel that God was with me, and that God would help me in every way possible. I knew through my Easter faith, that God was (and is) in solidarity with me and all those who are facing death.
As I continued to think about the Resurrection, I also figured out that if God is greater than the death of Jesus on the cross, then God is greater than AIDS. They told me the worst thing they could possibly tell me, and even so, I discovered I could still dance, I could still laugh and cry and love and be fully alive, even with AIDS. That is the power of Resurrection faith. Even in the face of death, we can be fully alive, loving life.
God is a greater reality than AIDS. Before there was HIV, there was God. And long after the cure and vaccine have been discovered, God will be. There is something comforting in the notion that the goodness and grace of God will be around a lot longer than HIV. God is a more enduring reality than HIV.
God has greater strength than AIDS. God can heal AIDS, and HIV-related illnesses. I was terminally ill with AIDS and cancer, and twelve years later, I'm in complete remission, healthy and active. In the mid-eighties, I wasted away to 125 pounds, and suffered with terrible peripheral neuropathy, and now I'm a buff 160 pounds. I was blind, and now I can see. The only explanation I can offer is the amazing grace of God. And the Resurrection is the ultimate example of that grace.
I struggle with the fact that this kind of miracle doesn't happen more often with AIDS. I know at least one other person who recovered from full-blown AIDS over a decade ago and is well today, and I would imagine there are others I don't know. But why isn't God gracing more people with this kind of miracle when it is clearly possible? I don't have a good answer to this. I do know that more and more people are living longer and longer, and some scientists now see HIV/AIDS as a "chronic, manageable infection." (See "New Hope for the New Year") To me, this is further evidence that bolsters my faith in the Resurrection.
God can give us everything we need to be fully alive, even with AIDS, even in facing death. I realized through my faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, that even though I was supposedly dying from AIDS, I could still enjoy all the gifts of being alive. The Easter message tells us that we can be fully alive, even in the face of death, even while dying. This is a terrific gift of faith, a true message of hope for anyone facing life with HIV or AIDS.
Look for evidence of the Resurrection each day of your life. Look for signs of new life, of healing, and of God's good grace. They are there! Let the Easter message fill you with hope, joy, and life. Jesus Christ is alive, here and now, gracing us with everything we need to face the challenges of life with HIV and AIDS. Open your hearts to the wondrous grace of God, exploding from the grave, triumphant over death.
Jesus Christ lives! Death could not defeat God! This is good news for all who live with HIV and AIDS. Jesus lives, and so hope lives.