Thought for the Day - Anne Atkins

It was the late seventies and we thought him almost a god, my school friends Helen and Anne and I. An actor-director undergraduate, impossibly tall, dark and drop dead gorgeous, he co-hosted a party every summer for which all the guests had to dress in white. Everything he did was cool and desirable. Until, in the eighties, a killer disease from America swept through the beautiful people like a scythe, and left him a wasted skeleton in a hospital bed. Anne managed to visit him and I meant to, really I did. But I couldn’t quite believe there wasn’t plenty of time. You see he seemed incapable, but incapable, of doing anything disagreeable.

We need to be “more Christian to one another” over AIDS, Elton John said yesterday. An interesting phrase, given Mr John’s introduction to this once devastating scourge. In 1985 he first read about and then met a brave young haemophiliac, Ryan White. When a journalist revealed that Ryan was dying of AIDS, not only was he banned from school and a judicial restraining order put on him to the cheers of his neighbours, but his own church required him to sit in a separate pew, and on Easter Day no one in the congregation would shake his hand as a sign of peace. If this is the behaviour of the church, why should we want to be more “Christian” towards one another?

We hardly have an impeccable record, do we? Once when we had reached a very low ebb as a family, I asked my husband, in despair, “Why should we go on believing, when God doesn’t answer prayer and Christians can behave worse than anybody?”

All he said in reply was this. “Look at the character of Jesus. Who else do you think He could have been?”
Not “Christian” theology. Far less the behaviour of “Christian” sinners like ourselves. But the character of Christ. My godmother gave me a Bible, in red tooled leather, which I had throughout my childhood and have still. At that moment I thought of its garish, dated children’s pictures, a shepherd with long hair and a lamb across His shoulders. Who else could He have been?
It’s true, He could be angry. He was capable of condemning. He even talked of Judgement. But it’s not for this that we remember Him. We remember a Man who loved a sex-worker for indecently wiping His feet with her loose hair. Who publicly befriended a fraudster worse than any recently discredited banker. Who cured those whose illnesses made them even more untouchable than Ryan, ostracised by his community.

Elton John’s book is provocatively entitled, Love is the Cure. Not medicine, or science, or technology. It is love for which this God is known above all, extending an invitation into His kingdom to a terrorist hanging by His side.

As Elton John said, Jesus, like Ryan who followed Him, “loved and forgave unconditionally and died for the sake of others.” A death even more disagreeable than my friend’s all those years ago.

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