We’ve come a long way. Thirty years ago AIDS was whispered and feared. Now we have an international day, December 1, dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness. Once HIV was a ticking death sentence and now we’re working toward an AIDS-free generation and getting to zero new HIV infections for women and children. It’s taken a lot of work, great commitment, and many sacrificed lives but there is hope.
While searching old files for something specific, I ran across a file folder with clippings, pictures, certifications, and memorial services from my early work with AIDS. I thought I’d honor World AIDS Day by remembering someone from the past.
David had just turned 29 when he died in 1987. We held his services at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco where he was a member of the esteemed Grace Cathedral Men and Boys Choir. Here’s what I shared that day:
Do you realize that David personally desired for each of you to be here? He did. When David first started planning this service over a year ago, he asked me if it was appropriate to send out invitations to one’s own memorial service. I told him that I had never really heard of anyone doing that. But in typical David style, he thoroughly researched the issue. He informed me that Miss Manners didn’t consider handwritten invitations to one’s service appropriate etiquette.
David put careful thought and consideration into planning this service. He knew it would be his last earthly statement and he wanted every detail – the location, the Scripture lessons, the selection and performance of the music, and yes, even those who could be here – to be just so.
David had a message to convey and, for him, the atmosphere and environment were critically important in creating just the right ambiance fir his message. David knew that the majesty and honor and glory of the whole would be greater than the beauty and simplicity of each part. David was person of wholeness and that’s what part of his message is about. But David was also a person of celebration. He celebrated life. Thus, David planned this time together as a celebration to the glory of God.
Each of us had the privilege of knowing David in some special and intimate way. As his parents, you knew only too well what a precious gift from God he truly was. As family members, you watched him grow up and grew up with him, seeing both that playful and also serious side to his intense character. And as friends and associates, you encountered David and all his complexity at various stages of his ever-dynamic life. Each of us has some precious memory or some lasting experience in which David’s life has touched our own.
David had a dynamic presence about him which drew endeared people to him. He manifested a rare depth and richness of personality so seldom encountered in others, but especially someone his age. David was, to be sure, intense and sensitive. Yet that unusual combination of intensity and sensitivity produced in him a quality which set him apart from the mediocre masses. As life layered experiences one upon another, David grew and deepened not only his understanding of himself, but also the One who undergirded his life. David’s inner struggle for wholeness kept him committed to the process of wholeness.
At times it was a painful process. David faced issues that drive many to bitter frustration and ultimate despair. He struggled with questions of sexual orientation and lifesyle; of acceptance and fitting in; of who I am, where am I going, what am I doing with my life. But he approached each issue, acknowledged and addressed it. His life was not characterized by frustration, or confusion, or despair. And David’s earthly life ended in peace. I believe he came to understand the deeper messages of which the Scripture lessons* read were speaking.
On more than one occasion David talked about feeling like Job. The book of Job provides a profound statement on the subject of the justice of God in light of human suffering. But the manner in which the problem of God’s justice and suffering is conceived and the solution offered by the author of Job is different than our Western concept. Our Western thought is: how can a just and loving God allow innocent people to suffer?
I’m sure many of you have been thinking, “Why David?” In posing the question in this way three possible assumptions are left open: (1) that God is not almighty; (2) that God is not just, that there is an evil element in God’s being; and (3) that humanity is innocent. David knew, as did ancient Israel, that it was indisputable that God is almighty, that God is perfectly just and no human is wholly innocent.
While most of our conversations were centered on delightful topics, David and I also addressed the difficult topic of suffering. An awful, debilitating disease was ravaging his body and threatening his life and yet David wanted to explore the implications of his suffering and how it fit into his understanding of a God who was central in his life. He never blamed nor accused God because, in his maturity, he recognized his own sense of responsibility for choices and decisions he made.
David grasped the significance of hope that, although the ravages of his disease would eventually bring about his death, he was absolutely certain that death was not the end of existence and that someday he would stand in the presence of the Redeemer; in the presence of none other than God and see God with his own eyes.
There once was a very rich gentleman who purchased a masterpiece from a master painter. It was an exquisite piece of art and he decided that he would have the masteriece hung by the master painter. The two went into the large living room, hanging the masterpiece on this wall and then that, unable to find just the right place. They tried another room, but no, it didn’t seem to quite fit. Finally, utterly frustrated, the mster painter suggested they take out the furniture, hand the painting and replace the furniture. And that’s what they did. They hung the picture and rearranged the durniture so that the exquisite masterpiece could truly be enjoyed.
There’s a spiritual principle which can be applied to this story and it’s one I believe David incorporated into his life. You see, David loved Jesus. David lived parts of his life like the rich gentleman who had a discerning eye for fine, exquisite art and yet recognized his inability to arrange a suitable place from which to display it. He tried to fit Jesus among the furnishings of his life. But David also recognized Jesus as the master painter of his life and began to rearrange his life around the truths that truly fit him, making him a complete and healed individual. Although he questioned and struggled with aspects of his life, David knew in a very real and intimate way the love, acceptance, and forgiveness that comes from God through Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t David’s style to preach and that’s what’s so beautiful about what David has created for us here. David gave. That’s why it is so important for us to recognize the gift he is giving to us today. Nor would David like us to go away feeling like we had just payed him the special tribute he so deserves.
David acknowledged that his worth and individuality came as a gift from God. I believe that is what David would have us consider today. He knew that only God, through Jesus Christ, could indeed take away that alienation from God which nags and assaults us and makes us feel so absolutely alone and abandoned. David knew Jesus restored life and that he conveys life to the believer so that death will never triumph over him … and that is to the glory of God.
Millions, like David, have lost their lives to AIDS and millions more, like my son, are infected with HIV. We know how to stop the spread of HIV. It starts with being aware. Know the facts. Get tested. Live.
Scripture lessons: Job 19:21-27; Revelation 21:2-7; John 11:21-27.