Saturday 29 February 2020

Homily at the Ash Wednesday Eucharist, 2020

Ash Wednesday Eucharist, St George's Cathedral, 26th FEBRUARY 2020:

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-12, and Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This Ash Wednesday service gives us an opportunity to re-consider our dependence on God’s grace in transforming our lives for the better. It invites us to dig deeper, to attempt to imitate the Holiness of God in our moral and ethical living. As I have said before, it is a time for stock-taking, for deepening our faith, for repentance and renewal, for focusing on God rather than seeking praise, and for recalibrating our “service odometers”.

Both today's Isaiah passage, written in captivity in Babylon, and the passage from Matthew, remind us that we need to be “making the main thing the main thing”. As the refrain goes in the chorus: “It is all about you, it's all about you, Jesus.” That touches the essence of Ash Wednesday, Lent and the Passion through to Easter.

Our efforts to fast and pray during Lent are important and necessary, however both passages ask us not simply to reduce our chocolate consumption but pose deeper questions: to what end are we fasting and praying? They challenge us to stop being pretentious, to reconsider memorized rituals. They call on us to put God first, and in South Africa today to speak up and speak out against injustice, exploitation, inequality, darkness and oppression, and then to do something about it. We need to be restorers, repairs, like well-watered gardens fed by springs whose water never fails.

Bringing these eternal values into our daily lives, let us condemn violence against women and children with renewed vigour. Please pray for the soul of Tazne van Wyk and for her grieving family. Pray for her  community in their shock and anger, pray for the justice system of our country; pray for all victims of gender-based violence; and pray for the safety of our schools, especially our girl children. Further afield, pray for an end to the right-wing terrorism we have seen in Germany in recent days, and for a just and lasting solution to Europe's problems.

You all know that Church and State have previously expressed our abhorrence of gender-based violence. We have marched, we have lamented at vigils, but the brutality continues. At the recent sitting of our Synod of Bishops, we declared Gender-Based Violence to be a “state of emergency’’. We committed ourselves to act and to forge strong partnerships to stop this violence. Its perpetrators need to know that their total disregard for the laws of this country and their complete disrespect for the sanctity of human life has consequences. Politicians, musicians, religious leaders and international figures must abandon language and actions that denigrate women. This is what Isaiah calls us to do if we are, in Matthew's words, to find our true treasure.

  As we look forward to the presentation of the annual Budget, and having witnessed the State of the Nation Address by President Ramaphosa, we need to ask ourselves: do we have what it takes to put in place a budgetary framework to assist curb the scourge of GBV? Can we recover the noblest aspirations of our struggle against the injustices and oppression of the past, to look beyond commissions of inquiry and to heal and rebuild our country on sound moral values? If our leaders are falling short, will we act in the areas in which we have influence to make up for the shortcomings? Can we confidently say, yes, we can be trusted to take South Africa forward?

        Let us re-dedicate ourselves to the struggle against greed, corruption and nepotism, to the struggle against the pursuit of narrow self-interest, personal gain, status, power hunger and material wealth – in short let us commit ourselves to the struggle for true justice, including economic justice. Put simply, I invite you to turn to Christ’s loving ways and become channels of His peace.

        God loves you, and so do I. God bless South Africa. Amen.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

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