Thursday 18 March 2021

Archbishop's sermon: Requiem Mass for His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini KaBhekuzulu

This SABC recording of part of the State Memorial Service begins with the readings during the Requiem Mass. The Archbishop's sermon begins 12 minutes into the recording:

The text from which the Archbishop preached:

State Memorial Service and Requiem Mass for
Sermon by the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop of Cape Town
Nongoma, 18th March 2021

Readings: Genesis 50:12-14, Psalm 23 and John 5:24-29
May I speak in the name of God, who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, who is our comforter and friend at all times, and especially when we mourn. Amen.

Mr President, I want to acknowledge you, and the former President, and the Bishops here present and the clergy. The Anglican Church of Southern Africa’s polity dictates that when there is a vacancy in a Diocese, the Archbishop becomes the diocesan bishop in that Diocese too.  So Mr President, I am here today in my role as Bishop of Zululand because due to lockdown restrictions, we were not able to meet and elect a new local bishop.

Your Majesties and Your Royal Highnesses,
Members of the Royal Family,
Members of other Royal Families and Traditional Leaders,
Members of the Zulu Nation,
Fellow South Africans and guests:

I greet you in the name of the Living God, who liberates individuals, nations and humankind from sin and bondage of all kinds.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, but particularly to the widows and the children of His Majesty, to all members of the Royal Family, and to the Zulu Nation, please accept on behalf of people of faith in Southern Africa our heartfelt condolences on your tragic and untimely loss. We heard in the reading from the psalms today about total dependence and reliance on God. Hear also these words of comfort:
I am the resurrection and I am the life: he who believes in me though he dies, yet shall he live and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

It is with much regret that we cannot hold the funeral we all wish we could have held. But the sensitivity of the Royal House to the health and welfare of all our people, as evidenced by Prince Buthelezi, is praiseworthy and it is in all of our best interests. Thank you for your caring. We pray for a quick roll-out of the vaccines which will restore our lives to a more normal state. I have spent the last few weeks campaigning here and abroad against vaccine apartheid, and I hope those of you with influence in the right circles will play your role in putting pressure on the international community to put as much emphasis on the lives of those in the developing world as on those in richer countries when it comes to distributing vaccines.

Today we are commemorating an historic moment in our common life, the passing of the longest-serving monarch of any in the proud, 200-year history of the Zulu Nation. I am humbled and privileged to have been asked to preach on this momentous occasion, and I am appreciative of the long relationship between the Royal Family and the Anglican Church, going back into the 19th century, despite the fact that the record of our church has been a mixed history, to say the least.

In the present day, our current generation of Anglican bishops have fond memories of His Majesty, of how he came to address our Synod of Bishops, and presented each of us with the wine he proudly produced under his Bayede label. He and I met regularly, and he would send me his piano recitals in the early hours of the morning. We prayed and talked, mostly through Queen Thandi’s phone, of his grief at the deaths of his sister and his son. He shared the conflict he felt when he said to me, “Solufefe, custom does not allow me to attend funerals but I am pained by the death of my son and I will break tradition and appear.” On a lighter note, after we had once discussed a sensitive church matter in a hotel he booked me into, he told me: “Solufefe, I don’t know if you know how to relax. The aim of bringing you here is for you also to relax. I have ordered that you should have a foot massage – if you haven't had one before, it is ticklish, but you must enjoy it.” Those were some of the sweet moments that I recall.

In the past week, as the President has said, since “the sun has set” on His Majesty's life, I have been contemplating the legacies of the kings of the Bible. The Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, list many great kings, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jotham, Hezekiah, Josiah, kings of different periods in history, of different outlooks, faced with different joys and sorrows, kings with different talents, but all of them sharing one common calling – that their mission was to please God. (Let me say as an aside that choosing to talk about kings in the Bible who are men at this point will put me in direct confrontation and conflict with some of the feminist theologians in our church – for which I apologise.)

Through the ages, the standard by which kings have been judged is whether what they have done is pleasing to God. We come here today to honour, to mourn and to reflect on the life of a king who as with the Biblical kings of old, had his missteps in life and mistakes, but who also excelled. One of our historians has written of the Zulu Royal House that what has been constant over South Africa's history is the emotional hold of the Zulu monarchy, the loyalty it has engendered, the sense of belonging it has given to the country's most populous traditional nation. What has also been constant is its central position in African tradition and in African history.

Let the historians of the future, who will give their opinions with a longer perspective, assess our legacies, whether that of His Majesty, or that of Madiba, or any one of us. But what can be said without contradiction today is that the reign of His Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini, was truly a consequential reign, an historic reign, an historic era unprecedented in South Africa's history during which we as a nation re-invented ourselves. And, as we have seen over the course of the last week, the hold of the Zulu monarchy on our collective imagination is as strong as it ever was.

Let me return to the Scriptures. We heard in our reading from the Bible today of that other man who was raised for a season in history to govern, to guard and to guide, the man called Joseph. We heard how Joseph did so beautifully what we have done this week and last night, and that is buried his father, Jacob, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. Genesis 50:12 says so poignantly “and the patriarch’s sons carried his body as he had asked them to…” This account came after a passage which is a beautiful description of death, so appropriate for a patriarch, so fitting for a king. Jacob cried out, as every good king must surely do in the face of death: “Now I am being gathered up to be with my people.” (49:29) The king went to join his ancestors.

Joseph kept his pledge to his father, to take him back to rest with the patriarchs in the field that Abraham had bought, to let him rest in ancestral land. Joseph kept this pledge, just as he had kept earlier pledges in his life, pledges born of his responsibilities and that came with power, the pledges that came from reading his past with an open heart and with deep compassion, the pledges of enduring relationships.
The parallel is so strong, dear friends, with His Majesty, Isilo, a man schooled to keep the pledges that history asked of him. Through difficult years, he was pledged not only to carry the dead but to sow seeds for the future, to carry the living through the tides of history. Isilo was carried by that same wisdom and thus kept his pledges and we the people, not only his subjects, but the people of this land, are the nobler for it.

God promised Abraham that God would bless the nations through his descendants. This is no more true than in Joseph, for it is Joseph who blesses the nations in the time of famine from the food supply which he controls. Joseph blesses the nations, fulfills God's promises by being for the people around him a sign of hope, a reminder that God's purposes stretch beyond the difficulties and discouragements of the moment, a reminder that one epoch in history does not define a nation.

God always has a vision for the future and raises people to meet the hour. Isilo was in such a line. We would honour him and strengthen his legacy if we become men and women who offer hope, who do not succumb to the despair of hard times but rise above it, and make our contribution to the future. That is not only the task of kings, it is the duty of everyone.

But there was another promise, this time not one that Joseph had received but one that he called forth from his family and the royal entourage. As he lay dying he asked his descendants to make the promise that when God summonsed them to leave Egypt and enter the Promised Land, that they would take his body with them. Isilo would not expect that literally. But there must be in our hearts the promise that when we have arrived in the new land – when our liberation is more complete, when the future is brighter and a new dawn, a new time has dawned – that we will take his memory with us, that we will carry the inspiration he lit in us, the dreams he shared with us, the courage he called forth in us, that we would take all of that, his legacy, into the land God promised our ancestors. Let us take hold of the promises made to us and honour Isilo by making those promises real so that our country, our continent and our world will be a better place.

At the end, Joseph like his ancestors, like patriarchs of every age, in death find lasting peace. For those who loved generously, served faithfully and lived inspirationally, no one begrudges them their death. Indeed the stories of patriarchs including Joseph, all carry the details of descendants surrounding them, of fellow country-people, all gathering as a pledge of the peace into which their loved ones enter. The nation gathers today to pray for uBayede’s peace, who is now in the arms of God.

We are close to Easter, when we celebrate that death can never hold us captive, that the grave has no dominion over us and that our ultimate destiny is to rise in glory. Isilo's lifelong practice of faith has filled him with the expectation that this will be his other coronation moment, when he is crowned with the immortality of those who die in the Lord. For the believer, death is merely a horizon, a point beyond which we cannot see. It is a transition and therefore nothing to dread. Life is changed not ended and so we do not say “Goodbye, Isilo” we just say, “Until we meet again.”

Let me finish with Paul's great words: “Now unto Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, to Him be glory now and forever.”

God loves the Zulu nation. God loves the South African nation. God loves the world. God's richest blessings be upon all of you. Amen.

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