This is an edited version of the sermon, originally preached largely in Sesotho, at the Memorial Service held at the Marikana Mine on 23 August 2012.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
Today, we are here to mourn - or, to use another word from the Bible, we are here to lament.
We are here to cry out to God, and pour out our tears, pour out our hearts. We are here to ask God – knowing that he hears and knows our pain – to ask God, ‘Where were you when we were shot at, killed, exploited by less than adequate salaries? God, where are you when we are denied education access to basic services and we live in sub-standard places? We dare to ask God, because we know he can handle our asking. And if we can ask God these questions, we can ask anybody these questions without fear.
Yet as we ask these questions, we do so knowing that today is not a day of stirring up. God knows our emotions have been more than stirred up in the last weeks. Rather, today is a day of wresting with God about our pains; today is a day of laying down: laying down the burdens of our brokenness, our pain, our sorrow – laying them down before the cross of Jesus Christ – the eternal Son of God who became fully human and knows what it is to suffer pain and grief and to face death.
We bring our sufferings to Jesus, who suffers with us; who shares our battling. We bring to him our anger, our frustrations, our feelings of desperation, our heartfelt wish that things could have been different – so very different. We come before the God who listens, and we say to him all that we wish could have been different.
And so we mourn, and we lament. We lament the lives that have been lost – lives on all sides. We remember those whom we have loved. We thank God for them, for all the love we shared with them, for all the good we saw in them. We resolve that no revenge can return them to us; and in their memory, we recommit to solving our current challenges through negotiating, through dialogue, through talking with those in charge – management, government and amongst ourselves.
We dare to tell this listening God how sore our hearts are at the deaths of those we loved. We speak to our Father in heaven who watched his own Son die – and know that he understands.
We grieve for all who have lost fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends, colleagues. We cry out for families who have lost their breadwinners. We pour out our tears in the face of death – and we ask God for the comfort he alone can bring. We open our hearts to God, and ask him to write in them his consoling truths. We also lament for all who have been injured. We weep for all who have been traumatised.
We mourn because we were not wise enough, not brave enough, to insist that violence solves nothing, and is never the best way to a better future. We weep for the mistakes that were made, for the poor judgments reached, for the wrong decisions taken. We grieve for all who bear some responsibility, even in a small way, for how events unfolded, and now carry the burden of wishing they could have said or done differently. We mourn for broken relationships, broken trust, among those who work or live together – whether in the mine, or in the communities around. And as we lament all that happened, we also weep for the circumstances that led to these terrible events.
This week, we not only mourn and lament as individuals, but the whole nation of South Africa is also called to mourning. What does it mean that we should lament, not only as individuals but as a nation?
The whole country needs to be courageous in finding words to cry out honestly to God. We need to name our pain. We need to speak it out – without pretence – for the sake of South Africa.
The levels of inequality in our country are unjust and unsustainable. Of course, some will always be richer than others – but it is not right that a few should pursue such high levels of luxury when so many have so little. This is true far beyond the mining sector.
We come to the God of compassion, and ask, where is the compassion in our society? We mourn that we are so complacent, so lacking in godly love and compassion, that we can look on those with inadequate housing, and not do something about it. We mourn that, as a nation, we have let slip the Vision that guided us to freedom and democracy; that we have taken our eyes off our commitment to mutual respect and generosity of spirit, to creating a caring society in which all may have enough to live on with dignity and hope.
Today we mourn – we mourn for all who have died; and we mourn for all else that grieves us. We bring it all before God with a purpose – we come to ask him to take it all, and redeem it, to change it, and to change us, and give us a fresh start, so we may make a good and godly difference. This is the blessing of comfort that we seek. We ask him to bring:
• consolation for sorrow;
• hope for despair;
• healing for pain;
• wholeness for brokenness;
• forgiveness for wrong-doing;
• trust for suspicion;
• reconciliation for enmity and division;
• and a new beginning wherever it is needed.
We know that this will ask a lot of us, so we also ask for:
• strength in our weakness;
• wisdom in our ignorance;
• courage in our fearfulness
so that we might dare to see what it is that we need to do, and have the commitment to carry it out.
We are thus grateful that President Zuma has put together an Inquiry into this massacre and we hope it will get to the bottom of this disaster and reveal the truth. It is not enough to pray for wounds to be bandaged and pain healed, and to demand that conflict ends, unless we are prepared to address the wider context and the underlying issues on which conflict feeds. We have brought to God our lament over the anger, the inequality, the poverty, the death, the suffering, the injury, the hopelessness: and now we must listen to what is God asking us to do.
In the Bible, the Prophet Isaiah records this promise of God:
‘I will appoint Peace as your overseer, and Righteousness as your taskmaster: violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders …’ (Isaiah 60:17-18).
God’s word to us is that devastation and destruction end only when there is true peace and righteousness. This is a clear message of common sense to everyone, whether religious or not. The plain truth is that our greatest need lies in ensuring true justice and real fairness prevail in all sectors of our country’s life, and so bring genuine peace.
This is not merely about justice in terms of answering legal questions of who did what in the events of last week; nor of peace that is only the absence of conflict. It is the question of wider justice, across all of society, across the whole nation. It is about the justice and fairness and equity that are marked:
• by true economic emancipation of all,
• by good governance, honesty and truth,
• by mutual respect regardless of status,
• by flourishing democratic systems,
• by free but constructive speech.
It is about creating a country where every human person lives in dignity, with adequate housing, food, water, sanitation, health-care, education, and all the basic necessities of life.
God wants what is best for all his children, and will help us, if we strive for all that is good and right. This is the promise of the words of Jesus that we heard read to us. We should not be afraid to hold fast to his promises of hope – to strive for righteousness, for true justice; and to seek for genuine peace and true reconciliation.
to be, rather than any of the difficulties, challenges, setbacks that we experience.
Even as we mourn, let us ask God to bring his light into our darkness, and guide our feet into his life-giving pathways. That is why I want to make an appeal to our politicians, to respect the sanctity and dignity of those who died and all God’s people; and not to try to gain cheap political points out of this massacre. These are God’s people and we must respect the sanctity of their lives lost, their blood shed, especially as we mourn.
So, may God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit bring comfort and blessing to all who mourn, and fresh courage and hope for tomorrow. Amen