Sermon for a World AIDS Day Interfaith Service: Remembering Wayne
December 01, 2004
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked…Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
According to the way Christians tell their story, Jesus is crucified. His disciples, who love him so greatly and miss him so terribly, gather to grieve. Then, Jesus, now raised from the dead, appears. The disciples, at first, shocked, rejoice. They rejoice that Jesus – their leader, teacher, and friend – is back. Back from the dead. Back with them. I imagine them saying – if not aloud, for fear that it may turn out not to be true, then, at least, in the silent, yet, joyous words of their hearts, “If Jesus is truly back from the dead, then, how can he ever leave again? He is with us, now and forever!”
But it is not to be. Jesus appears. Speaks a word of peace. Then departs.
What kind of peace is this? It’s not fair. It makes no sense. Yet, as another Christian scripture speaks, this is the peace “that surpasses human understanding.”
Again, according to the way Christians tell their story, what the disciples, at that moment, didn’t, perhaps couldn’t understand is that Jesus would be with them. Not in the same way he had been with them before – in flesh and blood – but in a different, more profoundly present way. Jesus no longer only would be with them, face-to-face, side-by-side. Rather, Jesus, by and through spirit, would be in them – as close as heartbeat, as near as breath, as spontaneous as thought and memory, as immediate as feeling and impulse. Now, the disciples would experience a hitherto unknown fellowship, oneness, indeed, peace with Jesus – a peace surpassing understanding, for it is beyond human intellect to comprehend or human ingenuity to create.
Ten years ago, next March, my brother, Wayne died. I loved him so. I love him still. I miss him so. I miss him still.
O, how I wish that he was back. Back from the dead. Back with me. Now, in this life.
That is not to be. But Wayne is still with me. Not in the away that he had been before – in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. Wayne no longer talks to me in audible words. I do not see him face-to-face. We no longer walk side-by-side. But he is alive and lives within me. He comes as close to me as breathing, in the immediacy of thought, the spontaneity of feeling, and the vivid imagery of memory…
I remember his broad smile. His raucous laughter. The beautiful music he made at the piano keyboard and organ console. His very early morning Saturday wake up calls to my wife, Pontheolla, and me (and because he was in St. Louis, it meant he was up an hour ahead of us!), saying, “Get up and get busy! Be productive! The day is wasting away!”
But even more than this, in the lively memory of Wayne within me, I have a living image of an authentic human being – one who dared to be true to himself and honest with others… A living image of authenticity upon which to model my life, the presence of which is beyond my human reason to comprehend or my human ingenuity to create.
I remember Wayne’s generosity… How he gave of himself and his substance to his family and friends, sometimes beyond the point of seemingly prudent self-interest. The remembrance of his generosity guides me in those moments when selfishness suffocates any spirit of charity within me.
I remember Wayne’s kindness… How he spoke very little evil of others, even those who had hurt him. I remember how he held his own counsel, when to speak, however truthfully, would have been unkind and, hence, unhelpful. The remembrance of his kindness constrains me in those moments when my anger – even righteous anger about injustice – would burst into the flame of vengeful speech.
I remember Wayne’s honesty… How he both with candor and care, told our parents that he was gay. I remember how he refused to deny his deep pain when our parents, perhaps predictably, did not accept him. I remember how he labored to live into a healthy, unapologetic self-acceptance. The remembrance of his honesty helps me remain true to myself and with others in those moments when I, for the sake of being accepted, am tempted, like a chameleon, to blend in with my surroundings, concealing what I think and feel.
I remember Wayne’s courage… How he valiantly lived those final days and hours of his life with AIDS. He didn’t want to die, but he seemed to accept his approaching death, blessedly without shame, victoriously without fear. The remembrance of his courage encourages me in those moments when my fears threaten to engulf me.
It’s funny, paradoxical, but frankly, I think that I think of Wayne more now that he’s dead than when he was alive in the flesh. Perhaps it is in my awareness that I don’t have the luxury of picking up the phone to call him that he comes more to mind. More likely, it is because of love. I loved him so. I love him still. I miss him so. I miss him still. O, how I wish that he was back. Back from the dead. Back with me now, in this life. This is not to be.
But Wayne is still with me. Not in flesh and blood, but in a different, more profoundly present way. He is alive and lives within me. The very memory of him often helps me connect with a spiritual strength beyond my own power. I now experience a sense of fellowship with Wayne, yea, verily, God hitherto u
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