Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost – once more we pass through these seasons. And once again we see how all of them speak to our changing circumstances.
St Paul wrote to the Philippians, ‘I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil 3:10,11). It is as if St Paul, at one and the same time, shares in both the suffering of the cross and the joyful triumph of the resurrection. This is so often our experience too, living at a time when, as we often say, ‘the kingdom both is, and is yet to come’. All around us, we see both death and life at work in many different ways – and our call is to join in wherever God is bringing about the abundant life of resurrection promise.
I saw this in a big way last week, when Fr Michael Lapsley SSM, whom many of you know, held a service of thanksgiving twenty years after he was blown up by a letter-bomb sent to him by the agents of the apartheid government. He lost both hands and an eye. To watch him preside at the Eucharist, holding the bread between articulated metal claws as he repeats Christ’s words ‘This is my body, broken for you’ is to be challenged to a deeper appreciation of the cost of the cross and what it means to share in it, without which we cannot share in resurrection. But resurrection comes, if we are prepared to let it. So we gave thanks that Fr Michael’s life was spared – and, far more than this, that out of the great evil perpetrated against him, God by his grace has brought a far greater and more lasting good. Fr Michael established the Institute for the Healing of Memories which conducts significant work among victims of violence and torture here and all around the world, including Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, and further afield. Fr Michael has said, it ‘is not to say that I will not always grieve what I’ve lost … Yet I believe I’ve gained through this experience. I realise that I can be more of a priest with no hands than with two hands.’
His example gives us courage to let God work in and through us in the worst possible circumstances, to bring to fruit a good that is greater than the evil that went before – to cooperate with resurrection in the place of crucifixion.
We need to learn to see death and life at work not only in big dramatic situations, but also in the far more subtle circumstances with which democratic life often presents us. This can be far harder to do, when many of the options are such a mix of good and bad, constructive and destructive. I’ve been pondering what this means in relation to water. Safe water is fundamental to human existence. But in many regions ground water is at risk from industrial pollution. Yet these same industries provide livelihoods to many people. We see the cross in the threats to human well-being, and to the health of our environment (one of our priorities in our Vision 2020 planning). We must also look for the possibilities of resurrection – of working with NGOs and others to call governments to implement regulations that will both support job-sustaining industry but ensure environmental standards are upheld. We can pray, with the ascended Saviour who is at the Father’s right hand interceding for us, for opportunities to speak life-giving words; and ask the Spirit to give us the right words (perhaps through leading us to experts to guide us) whenever we God provides these chances to lobby and advocate for good. There may be no easy, simple answers – but the promise of cross and resurrection, Passion and Easter, is that in every situation, no matter how complex, we can be part of the wrestling to find good solutions. This is what St Paul means when he says that in all things, God works for good, for those who love him whom he has called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). As Fr Michael shows us, there is no situation so bad that God does not provide an opportunity for us to work for good in it.
The challenge is to have such ‘eyes to see’ in whatever our circumstances – and to work for live in taking public stances where democracy is not what it might be, in marches to raise the profile of local issues, in putting the weight of the church behind social justice questions in our communities, and so forth.
Life and death are at work in our Province in other ways. We were shocked by the murder of Revd Manuel Ferreira, in the Cassexe commune in Uige province in Angola, on his way home after celebrating the Eucharist on 2 May. This is a tragedy for his family, his parish and the wider diocese. Do pray or his wife, Rosa Nunes Ferreira, their 6 children, and all who loved him.
We have also just heard of the death of Bishop John Ruston, on 27 April in the UK. He was suffragan Bishop of Pretorial from 1983, then Bishop of St Helena from 1990 to 1999. He had been ill and frail for some time. We hold his family and friends in our prayers, and give thanks for this faithful servant of God.
Yet alongside these deaths, we join with the Diocese of Zululand in celebrating its 140th anniversary this month. We offer Bishop Dino, his clergy and people, our congratulations. We have much to thank God for, in his faithfulness in a place that has seen considerable trauma, both in the Anglo-Zulu War, and more recently in the later years of the struggle. Yet it was also where Alphaeus Zulu was elected the first black Diocesan Bishop (having previously been the first black suffragan, in St John’s, as Mthatha was then known).
We also give thanks for the election of Archdeacon Daniel Kgomosotho as the second bishop of the Diocese of Mpumalanga, following Bishop Les Walker’s death last year. Please pray for him, his wife and family, as he prepares for his consecration will be on 24 July. We also congratulate Bishop Tisani, enthroned on the 24th April as the first bishop of Ukhahlamba diocese as well as the inauguration of St Michael's Queenstown as a new cathedral. Another Bishop who needs your prayers is Mark van Koevering of Niassa, who was in hospital last month with pneumonia and a kidney infection, but is now home. Please pray for his complete recovery.
As the collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter puts it, ‘Sovereign Lord, through the death and resurrection of your Son, all creation is renewed and by faith we are born again: make us grow up into him and bring us to the fulness of Christ’. Amen. May it indeed be so.
Yours in the Service of Christ
++Thabo Cape Town