A homily preached during an online service of worship produced by the Anglican Communion Office for worshippers around the world. The full service can be viewed at the end of the text below.
Psalm 23; Acts 2:42 to end; John 10: 1-10
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Welcome to you from the chapel at Bishopscourt in Cape Town, the home of Anglican Archbishops of Cape Town for 150 years, and a place that reflects the suffering, the struggle and the hope of South Africa over its history. This was an estate where colonisers once kept slaves, it was the the place from which my predecessors opposed apartheid, and it was the home which hosted Nelson Mandela on his first night out of prison 30 years ago. The crucifix behind me, commissioned by Desmond Tutu, was the one on which Mr Mandela gazed when he first received Communion here.
Today we meet online at a time when a new darkness has covered the earth. In many parts of the world, people live in such overcrowded conditions that they cannot easily escape the coronavirus. If they are allowed to go to work to earn a living, they face the possibility of infection on crowded public transport. Most of us live in lockdown, confined to our homes, with the pain of churches being closed. I long to see you, to touch you and to be with you.
But amid this death-dealing, economy-wrecking, socially disruptive pandemic, we read in today's texts both one of the finest spiritual writings on comfort and encouragement in dark times, and a gospel passage which gives us Jesus’s wonderful promise of abundant life. Today's readings remind us that in this difficult time we are challenged to be an Easter people. Note that when the Risen Jesus appears to the disciples to encourage and comfort them amidst their sorrow, as he helps them to negotiate a new terrain, his wounds are still visible. It is as if to say that the post-Resurrection world – and for us the post-pandemic world – has to come to terms with the wounds, with the places of brokenness, if it is going to offer hope and new life.
A close reading of the Scriptures tells us that in such life-changing moments, part of our spiritual stewardship is to wait for what is coming to birth, to wait respectfully before what is to take shape. Yet it takes courage to wait; not to give up or walk away when life is hard. We have seen many people displaying that courage over the past weeks – the people on the frontline of the pandemic, caring for the sick, ensuring essential services, accompanying the vulnerable, all of them keeping the space open for the future promise of abundant life.
John's theology suggests, and we in Africa confirm this, that life in its fullness, the abundant life, is never a life lived in isolation. It is communal, it is always about ‘we’. In South Africa, many voices in the Church prefer not to use the phrase “social distancing”, but rather to call it “physical distancing” and instead to talk about social togetherness.
So as we look to a post-COVID-19 future, let social solidarity be our lodestar. Let us extend our concern over the coronavirus to cover other threats to public health, such as the devastating effects of malaria which still haunt much of the world. Let us plan to put the vulnerable, the poor and those left behind at the heart of our social planning, our economics and our life together.
The coronavirus is offering us a chance to change the world. As the human family, let us live out the Resurrection of our Lord by seizing the moment and creating something different, something which glorifies our God.
May God bless you.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
May 3, 2020