Tuesday, 1 June 2021

A Pastoral Letter on the tragic situation in Palestine and Israel

My dear Sisters and Brothers,

In September 2019, our Provincial Synod passed a resolution expressing our strong support for justice for the Palestinian people. We did not do this lightly: our own experiences and the way the Christian faith was manipulated in the service of apartheid meant that we could not keep silent in the face of similar developments elsewhere.

Our resolution was a cry from the heart aimed at avoiding new outbreaks of violence such as that we have seen recently in the Holy Land. The indiscriminate attacks on whole communities which we saw are to be condemned in the strongest of terms, particularly when aimed at the blockaded territory of Gaza, which has taken on the nature of a huge open-air prison.

The rise in tensions which lay behind the recent violence is partly attributable to attempts to evict Palestinian families from their homes in a largely Palestinian neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and to replace them with Jewish settlers. It shocks the conscience to learn that Israeli law gives Jewish people the right to return to property said to have belonged to them before the state was established in 1948, but that Palestinians have no such right.

The dispute over land goes to the heart of the conflict: because Israel has been declared a homeland for the Jewish people, those of Jewish descent who have no connection to the land other than that biblical Israel was the historic home of their faith have the right to settle there. Yet Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948 have no right to return to their land and properties. And in recent years, the invasion of Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in 1967 by Jewish settlers renders any “two-state solution” even less viable than our Bantustans were.

The current state of affairs is unjust and evil. We therefore call for an arms embargo to be placed on all fighting forces in the region, just as there was a United Nations arms embargo on South Africa. We also call for other pressure, including sanctions, to be imposed to bring all the parties around a conference table to negotiate a just peace.

God must be weeping when God sees what is happening in the place where Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again. The “Holy Basin” should be a place where God’s reconciliation is showcased, but the current imbalance of power means that the Palestinians are suffering disproportionately.

We pray for those working for change. We pray for citizens across the world as they rise up in protest. We pray for a united response from across the world and we pray that the Holy Spirit will intervene and unite us across all barriers so that what happens in the Holy Land will surprise us and that we will glorify God because of it. It is possible. We must not lose hope. We must not become cynical. Let us hold onto faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is always love.

May God bless you during Trinitytide.

† Thabo Cape Town

Saturday, 22 May 2021

A Pastoral Letter to the Diocese of Natal

The text of a letter sent to Anglicans of the Diocese of Natal for Pentecost, 2021:

Pentecost Pastoral Letter to the Laos of Natal

It was such a privilege to spend three days in the Diocese early this week, two of which were at the Elective Assembly with representatives of the parishes, where we broke bread together and shared both laughter and tense moments as we discerned the future together. Discernment, as you may have noticed, can be robust and even frightening but it does not necessarily have to be that way. 

Thank you for that special time together. Thanks too for your hospitality in allowing the Ministry of Health to enter our space. We are grateful for those who were able to join me in being vaccinated. I will always cherish my visit and the proceedings of the assembly, and I thank God without ceasing for our experiences together. I know that some of you as lay people were hurt by the fruit of our discernment, but discernment goes with vulnerability, and vulnerability inevitably means hurt for some. 

Despite everything, God remains the Lord of the Church. The Gospel reading on Tuesday was powerful and put things in perspective for me: “Jesus spoke about glorifying God and pointing us to God.” Yes, considering the challenges of Covid-19 and having four vacant dioceses at present, I wish that the assembly could have made an election. But you discerned differently and have used the relevant provisions of the Canons to ask the Synod of Bishops to join you in discernment. Many rush to brand a decision to delegate an election to the bishops as a failure to elect. It is far from that – I regard it as a spirit- and God-filled request, an invitation issued after eight ballots that you wish the bishops to accompany you in your journey. It is an invitation that the Synod and I take very seriously. 

I have also heard your fears about the vastness of the Diocese and your concern that one person cannot fulfil the enormous task of shepherding it. I agree with you. You have a huge Diocese led in the recent past by three bishops, each in their own region. No one bishop can manage this big and precious Diocese. Synod of Bishops will elect a bishop for you, possibly sooner rather than later, so you don't need to be stressed about that. (I am exploring calling an early meeting of the Synod to hold the election.) But as your Diocesan in the interim, I suggest that we explore taking a venture of faith and passing an enabling resolution in terms of the Canons, asking the Province to multiply the current Diocese into two, or even three.  

Other dioceses have successfully taken this journey. Johannesburg, which once stretched from the Botswana border to the Swazi border, birthed three new dioceses in 1990. Mthatha birthed two, Cape Town two and Grahamstown one more. This coming year, ACSA will, God willing, birth a new Province – Igreja Anglicana de Moçambique e Angola (the Anglican Church of Mozambique and Angola). 

So, I invite you to be courageous, to trust God and to learn from your financial challenges that such a step would not be about trimming clergy numbers, but rather about creating more manageable entities, each able to address those challenges in a more focussed and efficient way. I will discuss with the diocesan leadership the calling of a diocesan conference or Synod to discuss this, chaired either by me or by your new bishop. 

As I have said before, the Diocese of Natal is in my heart and sinews. It is too important to fail in our time. Although it is in danger of heading towards congregationalism, and some are gripped by fear for the future, it is not in ruins and Nehemiah calls us to rebuild. May the spirit of Pentecost give you strength and courage to dream God’s dream through his church.

God loves you, and so do I. 

God bless. 


 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 14 May 2021

RIP Martha Makgoba-Nkoana, Archbishop's Sister

Bishopscourt regrets to announce that Ms Martha Makgoba-Nkoana, who celebrated her 80th birthday recently, died of coronavirus complications on Ascension Day.

The oldest sister of Archbishop Thabo, she was a member of the Mothers' Union and of St Hilda’s Parish, Senoane in Johannesburg. She is surived by two sisters, Archbishop Thabo, two daughters and about 12 grandchildren. 

She was a nursing sister for many years and taught nursing at both Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Wits University. She saved lives and loved life. With the Makgoba family, we give thanks to Jesus as we weep.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

World Religious Leaders Call for a People's Vaccine


Nearly 150 religious leaders from across the world, including Anglican leaders such as Archbishops Rowan Williams, Albert Chama of Central Africa and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, have issued an appeal for an end to vaccine nationalism. 

Their appeal was given widespread publicity, including on CNN International (view here) and by The Guardian, London, which reported:

Faith leaders are calling on states and pharmaceutical companies to produce and distribute enough vaccines to immunise the entire global population against Covid-19, saying there is a “moral obligation” to reach everyone.

Almost 150 religious leaders from around the world – including Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, and Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Roman Catholic church – are urging an end to vaccine nationalism. The Dalai Lama is also supporting the campaign.

Full Guardian report: Global faith leaders call for drug firms to vaccinate world against Covid

The full text of the appeal, entitled World Religious Leaders Call for a People's Vaccine, follows:

As religious leaders, we have witnessed the personal stories behind the Covid statistics - we have, every day, heard the cries, shared with us, of the suffering, the frightened, and the bereaved. We have witnessed too the profound love shown by those working at the frontline, and by those who have reached out to help their neighbours.

The Covid crisis has reminded us all of our interdependence, and of our responsibilities to care for one another. We can each only be safe when all of us are safe. If one part of the world is left to suffer the pandemic, all parts of the world will be put at ever-increasing risk.

The access of people to life-saving Covid-19 vaccines cannot be dependent on people's wealth, status, or nationality. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers by imagining that the market can be left to resolve the crisis or pretend to ourselves that we have no obligation to others in our shared humanity. Every person is precious. We have a moral obligation to reach everyone, in every country.

Right now, despite the incredible success in developing so many safe and effective vaccines in record time, and the relief of seeing them being rolled out, with deaths starting to decline as a result, it pains us greatly that access to the vaccines is so inequitable. Rich countries have been able to ramp up vaccination efforts and secure doses whilst in most low- and middle-income countries vaccines are only beginning to trickle in. At the current pace of vaccine production and distribution, people in much of the world may not be vaccinated until at least 2024. The consequences for the poorest individuals, families, and communities, will be devastating.

Neglect would undermine the dignity not only of those left behind, but also of those who have left them behind. 

This unprecedented public health crisis calls, above all, for global solidarity, for all people to stand together as brothers and sisters. The same spirit of unity and common purpose that has driven scientists to develop Covid-19 vaccines at breathtaking speed, that drives the care of those tending to the sick, must also inspire the leaders of government, civil society and the private sector to massively ramp up vaccine production so there are sufficient doses for every person in the world to be vaccinated.

We call on all leaders to reject vaccine nationalism and embrace a commitment to global vaccine equity. As religious leaders, we join our voices to the call for vaccines that are made available to all people as a global common good -- a People's Vaccine. This is the only way to end the pandemic. Let us work together to build a more just and peaceful world. To love is to take action.

Signed by 145 leaders:  

1. Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, President, Sojourners\ 2. Imam Ahmed Ghanem, Göteborg mosque, Gothenburg, Sweden\ 3. The Most Revd Dr Albert Chama, Archbishop of Central Africa and Chair of the Anglican Alliance\ 4. Adrian Cristea, Executive Officer, Dublin City Inter-faith Forum\ 5. Ann Scholz, SSND, Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR)\ 6. His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London\ 7. Anthony Nanson\ 8. Avera Health\ 9. Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Netherlands\ 10. Fr. Bernhard Bürgler SJ - Provincial of the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus\ 11. Blessing Makwara, General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe\ 12. The Revd Canon Bob Fyffe, General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland\ 13. Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, President of the Board at Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice\ 14. Rev. Brian D. McLaren, USA\ 15. Brigid Lawlor, Province Advocacy Liaison, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US Provinces\ 16. The Rev. Cn. Bruce W. Woodcock, Asia and the Pacific Partnership Officer for the Episcopal Church\ 17. Carolyn Lawrence, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference\ 18. Rev. Charles Berahino, Executive Secretary for Peace and Diakonia at the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)\ 19. Rev. Chris Hudson, Moderator, Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Ireland\ 20. Christopher Cox\ 21. The Rev. Christopher Frye, St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, Chambersburg, PA\ 22. Revd Clare Downing, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church\ 23. The Rev. Clelia P. Garrity, LCSW, Diocesan Missioner for Global Refuge Missions\ 24. Rev. Colin Holtz, President, Faithful America Board of Directors\ 25. Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, Salvation Army Territorial Commander, United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland\ 26. Revd Duncan Dormor, General Secretary, USPG\ 27. Fr Damian Howard SJ\ 28. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Scholar in Residence, National Council of Jewish Women\ 29. Bishop David Musumba, Free Pentecostal Fellowship in Kenya\ 30. Rev. Derrick Jones, Supervisor of RCA Mission programs in Africa\ 31. Dominican Sisters, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA\ 32. Rev Dyfrig Rees, General Secretary of the Union of Welsh Independents\ 33. Eddy Ruble, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship\ 34. Edwin Graham, Coordinator, Northern Ireland Inter-faith Forum\ 35. Sister Eileen Gannon, Sparkill, NY\ 36. Elijah M. Brown, General Secretary, Baptist World Alliance\ 37. Emmanuel Ahua\ 38. Sr. Emily TeKolste, SP, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice\ 39. Rev. Erik Oland S.J., Provincial - Jesuits of Canada\ 40. Esther Mombo\ 41. Franck Janin, President, Jesuit Conference of European Provincials\ 42. Franciscan Action Network\ 43. Rev. Fredrick Gilbert\ 44. Gustavo Calderón, S.J. Provincial de Ecuador - COMPAÑIA DE JESÚS\ 45. Hazel Loney, Lay Leader, Methodist Church in Ireland\ 46. Haider Ibrahim, Chairman, Islamic Shia communities in Sweden\ 47. Rev. Hodari Williams, New Life Church, Atlanta, Georgia, USA\ 48. Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Imam\ 49. Very Revd Dr Ivan Patterson, President, Irish Council of Churches\ 50. Rabbi Jacob Siegel\ 51. The Rev. James L. Reisner\ 52. Fr. Jan Roser SJ, Provincial\ 53. Sr. Jane Herb, IHM Sisters of Monroe, Michigan - President\ 54. Jason Miller, Franciscan Action\ 55. Javier Perez, Director of Global Missions Programs & Impact, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship\ 56. Rev Jennifer Butler, Faith in Public Life\ 57. Rev Dr Jennie Hurd, Chair of the Methodist Church Cymru Synod\ 58. Jennifer Lau - Executive Director, Canadian Baptist Ministries\ 59. P. Jesus Zaglul, Casa Generalicia de los jesuitas, Roma\ 60. Jim Winkler, President, National Council of Churches\ 61. Sr. Joan Mumaw IHM\ 62. John Celichowski, OFM Cap., NAPCC Novitiate, Santa Ynez, CA\ 63. Rev. John Chan, Canadian Baptist Ministries\ 64. The Most Reverend John Davies, Archbishop of Wales\ 65. Most Revd John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh, Church of Ireland\ 66. Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism\ 67. Rev. Canon Joseph P Collins\ 68. The Most Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion\ 69. The Rev'd Fr. Johannes Mokgethi-Heath, Act Church of Sweden\ 70. Rev. Julia Bowering, Canadian Baptist Ministries\ 71. Rev Judith Morris, General Secretary of the Union of Welsh Baptists\ 72. Judith Toner, member NY State UCC Global Ministries Committee\ 73. Judy Byron, OP, Inter-Community Peace & Justice Center, Seattle, Washington, USA\ 74. D. Kang-San Tan, BMS World Mission\ 75. Pastor Kay Woike, Church of the Nativity, United Church Of Christ\ 76. Ven. Kofi deGraft-Johnson, CAPA Secretariat, Nairobi, Kenya\ 77. Dr. Krish Kandiah, Greater Good Global\ 78. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Former Senior Rabbi, Reform Judaism\ 79. Dr. Lauren Jinshil Oliver, founder, CirclesWork.net\ 80. Lawrence Couch, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd\ 81. Lawrence Gilley, United Church of Christ, Deansboro, New York, USA\ 82. Dr. Lesmore Gibson, All Africa Conference of Churches\ 83. The Most Reverence Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada\ 84. Louise Hannem, Canadian Baptist Ministries\ 85. Janice Tsang, Co-convenor of the Anglican Health & Community Network (AHCN)\ 86. Lucas Lopez Perez SJ, del equipo de la Conferencia de Provinciales Jesuitas de Amerrica Latina y el Caribe\ 87. Rev. Luis Cortes, Jr. President Emeritus Hispanic Clergy, President & CEO, Esperanza\ 88. Rt Revd Luke Pato, Bishop of Namibia and Co-Convenor of the Anglican Health & Community Network\ 89. Friar Marco Moroni, Sacro Convento of Assisi\ 90. Most Rev Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church\ 91. Right Reverend Dr Martin Fair, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland\ 92. Mary Ellen Holohan,Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Member of Congregational Leadership Team\ 93. Rt Revd Dr Michael Beasley, Bishop of Hertford and Co-Convener of Anglican Health & Community Network\ 94. Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte OFM\ 95. Mohamed Temsamani, Chairman of United Islamic Associations of Sweden\ 96. Archbishop Mouneer Anis\ 97. Margaret Rose, The Episcopal Church\ 98. Marie Dennis, Pax Christi International\ 99. Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, General Secretary, Lutheran World Federation\ 100. Mary J. Novak, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice\ 101. Rev. Maxwell Doss - General Secretary, National Christian Council of Sri Lanka\ 102. Merritt Johnston, Baptist World Alliance\ 103. Rev. Nathan Empsall, Executive Director of Faithful America\ 104. Nathan Jones, Oasis Waterloo\ 105. Nick Park, Executive Director, Evangelical Alliance Ireland\ 106. Rabbi Nora Feinstein\ 107. Patricia Millen, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia\ 108. Bishop Paul Horan, Diocese of Mutare, Zimbabwe\ 109. Paul Parker, Quakers in Britain\ 110. Peter Pay, Moderator of General Assembly, United Reformed Church\ 111. Sister Pegge Boehm, PBVM, Sisters of the Presentation of the BVM of Aberdeen SD\ 112. Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect, Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development\ 113. Sister Quincy Howard, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice\ 114. Rev. Randy Stanton\ 115. Rebecca Linder Blachly, Director, The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations\ 116. Revd Richard Teal, President of the Methodist Conference\ 117. Richard Walters, The Pension Boards-United Church of Christ, Inc.\ 118. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President, Union for Reform Judaism\ 119. Roberto Jaramillo Bernal, S.J., Presidente de la Conferencia de Provincias, Jesuitas de America Latina y El Caribe\ 120. Sr. Rose Marie Jasinski, CBS\ 121. Dr. Rowan Williams, UK\ 122. Sacro Convento of Assisi\ 123. Rt Revd Sarah Groves, Moravian Church\ 124. Rev. Fr. Seamus Finn OMI, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate- US Province\ 125. Sheila Katz, CEO National Council of Jewish Women, USA\ 126. Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice\ 127. Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth Leadership\ 128. Sisters of Mercy of the Americas - Justice Team\ 129. Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace\ 130. Rev. S.J.Wilson, Atlanta GA\ 131. Rev. Dr. Stephen Wigley, Chair of the Wales Synod of the Methodist Church\ 132. Susan Gunn, MaryKnoll Office for Global Concerns\ 133. Rabbi Suzan E. Lipson\ 134. Rev. Sylvestre BIZIMANA, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Burundi\ 135. Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Executive Director, Religions for Peace USA\ 136. Fr. Ted Penton, SJ, Secretary of Justice and Ecology, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the US\ 137. The Most Revd Dr Thabo Cecil Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town\ 138. Rev Dr Tom McKnight, President, Methodist Church in Ireland\ 139. Bishop Venson Shava\ 140. Vicky Heslop, Jampa Ling Tibetan Buddhist Centre\ 141. Wanda M Lundy, Siloam-Hope First Presbyterian Church/ New York Theological Seminary\ 142. Rev. Wayne A. Laws, Minister of Social Justice & Mission at Mountain View United Church\ 143. Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne and Chair of the Trócaire Board of Directors\ 144. Xavier Jeyaraj SJ, Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology, Curia Generalizia, Rome\ 145. Dr. Zahid Bukhari, Executive Director, Center for Islam and Public Policy.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Celebrating Easter while waiting for Covid vaccines

The text of the sermon preached at the Easter Vigil at St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, Easter 2021:

Lections: Romans 6:3-11; Ps 114; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Mr Dean, Cathedral staff, clergy, wardens, lay leaders, choristers and members of the congregation both here and online, and I want to call you Canon Andile [Weeder], because you are enabling us to project and ensure that we all hear the word of God. Thank you for your dedication and support at this difficult time in our lives. Thank you for who you are and for what you do for God and God’s people in this city and beyond. And thank you all for being here tonight. I also want to wish my predecessor, Archbishop Njongonkulu, a happy birthday - he turned 80 yesterday.

[Text continues below videos]

Our readings this evening speak of transformation, the transformation of our lives, firstly through our baptism, as Paul explains to the Romans, and then through the Resurrection of our Lord in Mark’s account, that saving act of God which assures us that death does not have the last word, that life ultimately triumphs over death. 

Mark is very deliberate in the way he frames the Easter narrative. He says, very poignantly, “early in the morning, the first day of the week, the sun had just risen.” He is clear that there is a definitive shift out of darkness, out of the shadows of the past week, a week characterised by betrayal, denials, death, the brutal display of state power, and the desire of religious authorities to destroy a force that was disruptive for them. Something new has dawned; the entrance to a tomb blocked by a stone is now a space filled with good news, delivered by an angel sitting on the right-hand side, the place of power and authority, assuring the women that the crucifixion was not the end of the story, that Jesus “is risen and gone before you.”

Note that the angel doesn’t send the women to Jerusalem, the site of political and religious power, but instead to Galilee, to the margins, the place in which Jesus’s ministry had brought transformation. It was in Galilee that a little girl was raised to life. It was in Galilee that the strength of the faith of believers was such that they made a hole in a roof through which to lower a sick man into Jesus’s presence. It was in Galilee that Jesus changed water into wine to spare embarrassment to a couple at a wedding. It was a place where those doomed to the margins of society, unnoticed by elites, were taken out of the shadows and transformed by Jesus. And the angel tells the women to go back to Galilee, where they will meet the Risen Lord, who continues to work miracles, to transform situations, to give voice to those on the margins and to bring the hope of Easter. 

In many ways the past year has been a time of darkness. It has been gruelling, a year of grief and anxiety, a year of challenge and adaptation in which we have had to rethink the way we do things. The long months of lockdown have been hard for many, especially for the women and children who are victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Competition for resources has added to racial tensions. And the suffering continues for those impoverished by the lockdown, those who have lost jobs, whose businesses have been destroyed, whose dreams have been shattered. Even as humankind achieved new heights in a ground-breaking mission to Mars, the pandemic has forcefully reminded us that our human existence is conditional, impermanent and reliant on the infinite grace of the God we worship.

The stresses created by the pandemic have sadly sometimes brought out the worst in us. There are those who have stolen from the common purse, who have plumbed the depths of the scandalous corruption in our society, who have stolen the very breath of those struggling to breathe in intensive-care units. They have denied others, especially the poor, the means to cope with the effects of the pandemic. Their behaviour is all the more sad when we think back on how we hoped that by throwing us together to face a common crisis, the pandemic would make us rise to the occasion by creating a different future. 

Across the world we spoke of different economic models, of systemic ways of caring, of respectful relationships and honouring difference. But with time we seem to have slipped into a business-as-usual approach where the few benefit and the many suffer. We stand accused of missing the moment and condemning our sisters and brothers, and the earth which nurtures us, to relentless injustice and human wrong. In our own country we see again how our democracy is being tested, how constitutionalism stands at the crossroads and how too many with power abuse it to their own selfish ends.

And yet – and yet, we recall again the good that we have seen emerge from this crisis, the sacrifices of frontline health workers, of those who ensure that we have food on our tables and keep our environment clean, of all who take great risks and with generosity of spirit have kept us going. Their dedication is perhaps epitomised best by those in hospitals and other institutions who have gone above and beyond their everyday duties, and have taken the trouble to hold up cellphones to enable those who are ill or dying to speak to members of their families. 

Above all, we can celebrate the achievements of the world’s scientists, who have achieved the extraordinary feat of developing, in record time, vaccines to fight a pandemic which threatened to destroy us all. We owe much to our scientists, including the world-class researchers South Africa has brought to this task. 

Now that we know science can beat Covid-19, we face the next big challenge: to live up to the highest ideals of our different faiths and moral codes, and to ensure that everyone, whether rich or poor, whether they live in Africa or in Europe, are vaccinated quickly. The scientists have done and continue to do their work splendidly; now it is for leaders in other fields, in government, in the pharmaceutical industry, in the transport business, to match the achievements of the scientists and to find ways of rolling out vaccines which ensure that the citizens of every country on earth receive their jabs at a similar rate. 

Internationally, the prospects are looking bad. Vaccine nationalism has already taken hold. A quick check this week showed that while the United States had vaccinated 16 percent of its population, we had covered less than half a percent of ours, and many countries haven’t seen vaccines at all. As I told Dr Fauci in a recent letter, the voluntary vaccine supply mechanisms, such as COVAX, and the bi-lateral agreements used to procure vaccines across the world, are failing. And they are failing especially for the Global South, where we can with justification say that the poor of the world are suffering from vaccine apartheid. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement this week that agreements with pharmaceutical companies will bring us enough doses to vaccinate 41 million of our people, and that the most vulnerable among us will begin receiving our jabs in the middle of May, is welcome. But in view of the fragility of some of our health insfrastructure, the President will understand if I am sceptical of how quickly the roll-out will progress. Those covered by the private healthcare industry and on medical aids can feel more confident. But I am worried that, as is often the case, it is the poor and the marginalised who will suffer. 

We know very well that there are large areas of our country where political corruption has poisoned public healthcare systems. We know that political leadership has been woefully lacking in the worst areas affected: shame on those who have left hospitals and clinics short of people, equipment and protection. I have read that on the current strategy it would take 18 years to vaccinate our entire present population! We cannot allow that to happen.

Make no mistake: we are a world-class country. Our medical scientists are world-class. Ten years ago, we built world-class soccer stadiums and ran a world-class World Cup. Distributing and administering vaccines is not rocket science: it’s just a matter of getting the logistics right. If humankind can send a spacecraft 470 million kilometres to Mars and gently drop a landing rover onto the planet’s surface, surely South Africans can come up with a co-ordinated plan to collaborate in getting vaccines quickly to every corner of our country? 

It is time for the unheard, the unlistened to, the unnoticed and the young in South Africa to draw on the hope that Easter gives us, and to raise their voices. Insist that those who have power and resources, including government and business, come up with a clear, achievable, published timetable for getting everyone their vaccines. 

My call today, to all people of faith, and those of no faith, is: we are never alone; let us renew our determination, let us remember our resilience, let us bemoan the corruption which brings death, let us weep for the 52,000 people who have died in the pandemic so far. But above all, let us challenge our government to be transparent and fair in the roll-out, for while vaccines will not do away with Covid-19, they will help us cope better with it. And let us take those vaccines as soon as they become available. 

Let us also challenge vaccine nationalism - you can't put a flag on the vaccine and hope that the virus will not cross borders – and let us challenge the vaccine apartheid practised by those who play God and determine who is condemned to suffer and die on the cross of coronavirus. Let us fight against those with money and who are greedy, who put profits above human life, and who determine who can have access to a vaccine and who not.

Easter provides answers to the deepest questions of the human spirit. Easter provides a degree of certainty and answers to questions that have puzzled the probing minds of philosophers and theologians over the generations. This is the Easter message. It says that love is the most durable power in the world; that we will solve Covid; that we will get our families, friends and neighbours vaccinated. And through a devotion to equality and justice we will solve all our problems and challenges. 

Easter says we can live with hope. Hope, says Denise Ackermann, is not a “blithe sense that all will end well (or alles sal regkom)”. Rather, to live out hope “is to try to make that which I hope for come about – sooner rather than later.” Every time we take action aimed at giving practical expression to our hopes, we join the journey to Galilee and we honour the command of the angel at the tomb to “Go and tell.” If we don’t take up this challenge the peddlers of fake news and false hopes will colonise people’s hearts with untruths that lengthen the time in the tomb. 

Now is the moment for boldness, to retake those places where once death held sway and say “He is not here, He has gone before you.” Into all those places we must take our Easter anthems of alleluias because whatever else has occurred, the tomb is empty. Therein lies our ultimate hope. Amen, alleluia. 

God bless you, your families and God bless South Africa. 

And most importantly, remember…God loves you and so do I. 


Friday, 2 April 2021

A Homily for Good Friday

 Reflection on the Via Dolorosa, recorded for a Good Friday Service arranged by the SA Council of Churches on SABC2: 

 May I speak in the name of God, who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen

 I've been asked to reflect on the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering which Jesus followed on that original Good Friday as he carried his cross to Golgotha, helped only by an African, Simon of Cyrene.

 [Transcript continues below video]

 

For all of us in South Africa and the world, I dare say that we have all been given heavy crosses to carry in this past year. Reflecting on the account of Jesus's walk to the place of his crucifixion in Mark, Chapter 15 verses 16 to 21, it was a journey of betrayal, a journey of suffering, a journey of demeaning others, a journey of grief and a journey of sorrow. 

But in the Christian tradition, drawing on Paul's words in Philippians Chapter 3, verses 10 and 11, we read that journey as one that helps us to know Christ; to share in his suffering by becoming like him in death, and then to know the power of his resurrection. Just as Paul at one and the same time shares both the suffering of the Cross and the joyful triumph of the Resurrection, this has been the experience of all of us, at least in this past year, and no doubt throughout many years for some of us.

We have seen during the time of the pandemic both death and life at work in many different ways. In a Christmas message I said that in the past year my mind and heart have been flooded with the lives, the hardships, the challenges and the resilience of everyone I have encountered; everyone whom I think of, whom I cry for and whom I pray for every day. And I recall especially those who have died, whose names and faces I will never forget; those who died without saying goodbye to their loved ones. I remember also those whose families are going hungry, those who have had struggles beyond the usual challenges they face, and those, dear friends, for whom the stringent lockdowns have brought enormous psychological problems. And let us never forget the victims of gender-based violence, the incidence of which has gone up during the pandemic. 

So we have faced our fair share of trials in the past year, experiencing just a little of what Jesus must have suffered on the via dolorosa: the mocking, the spitting and the beating. Like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah, we have carried these trials, these charges and this suffering. In South Africa in the past year, these crosses were not only carried by Christians. They were carried by people of all faiths, and of no faith. Today, as the South African Council of Churches, the Anglican Church, other member  churches, as people of faith, we pause today and want to say:

“Thank you, God, you were in solidarity with us, for you were in solidarity with Christ in those painfully lonely, dying moments. And you're in solidarity with us through the crosses we carry, for within those crosses lie our redemption and victory and hope.”

We are never alone. We were crucified with Christ and we will be raised with Christ. Paul, in a beautifully poetic manner, says in the Letter to the Colossians that through the Cross of Jesus Christ, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in Heaven by making peace through the blood of the Cross. 

So my call today, to all people of faith and no faith, is: we are never alone; let us renew our determination, let us remember our resilience, let us bemoan the corruption which brings death, let us weep for the 52,000 people who have died in the pandemic so far. Let us reflect on the thorns around Jesus Christ's head, and remember our own thorns which have brought pain to our hearts and souls during this past year. 

Let us renew our resolve that we will speak out and really speak up for the people of Cabo Delgado in Mocambique and for the people of Tigray in Ethiopia. Let us speak out on the issue of the world's climate, for the changes in climate are impacting most severely those who are contributing least to those changes. 

Let us challenge our government to be transparent and fair in the roll-out of vaccines, for although they will not do away with Covid-19, they will help us as humanity to cope better with Covid. And let us take those vaccines as soon as they become available. Equally, let us join the voices of those who are calling for vaccines to be free, or at least affordable, and easily accessible. Let us challenge the pharmaceutical industry in Africa to manufacture vaccines ourselves – I am sure we can make more drugs ourselves instead of importing them. 

Let us also challenge vaccine nationalism - you can't put a flag on the vaccine and hope that the virus will not cross borders. Let us challenge the vaccine apartheid practised by those who play God and determine who is condemned to suffer and die on the cross of coronavirus. Let us fight against those with money and who are greedy, who put profits above human life, and who determine which people can have access to a vaccine and which not.

Dear friends, as Christians, as people of faith, as people of hope: 

We know that the Cross repaired the damage that was caused by frail and sinful human beings. It transfigured all that our sins had marred. It rescued the lost. It mended the broken-hearted and it healed the wounded. So let us hold onto our trust in God, for Good Friday leads to Easter. The Cross leads to eternal life. The darkness of sin is transformed by the body of Christ. And we too are saved, even in a time of coronavirus.

God bless you, and God bless South Africa. Amen.