Monday, December 16, 2013

Madiba: The life gloriously lived

Well, yesterday we had the Memorial Service for Madiba.  It was an occasion with its own poignancy and magic.  The Sunny Side Up choir gave us the African rhythms to complement the Cathedral Choir and speakers and participants came from all parts of the community and faith traditions.  It was quintessentially Dunedin and, most of all, I was gratified to see the large number of South Africans turn out for the event. The DCC has been generous in its support and it is in an occasion such as this that we also catch a glimpse of what a Cathedral can offer the community.

There were a number of well-informed and moving addresses.  I gave a 'reflection' (not a sermon, note) where I tried to identify the extraordinary activity of God within the person of Madiba.  For those who may be interested, it is pasted below.

On my father’s bookshelves was a book entitled When Smuts Goes, written in 1947, it foresaw the destiny of South Africa as isolated and doomed with white and black peoples locked in mortal conflict.  For about the next 50 years most of the world thought that was South Africa’s future – and most South Africans also feared that to be so.
But something happened, something nobody counted on.
·       (I will call Nelson Mandela by the tribal name of affection he is known by in South Africa, Madiba) In the early 1960s Madiba had been imprisoned a terrorist.  He had gone into prison an angry man.  Just over 27 years later he emerged from prison, still resolute, his will unbowed, his principles unchanged.  But no longer angry.
He was no longer angry.  Something had happened, something nobody counted on.
·       It seems that about 11 years into his imprisonment Madiba changed.  He took up and learned Afrikaans and began to read Afrikaner literature – he came to understand the strengths and contradictions of the Afrikaner soul from the ‘inside’ and to recognise that Apartheid was born from fear; the fear of annihilation, of losing one’s identity, language and only place in the world.

·       ‘Know your enemy’: it could be said this was all part of Madiba’s political brilliance.  That’s one way of looking at it, but to truly “Know your enemy’ in your heart as well as your head is also to be changed yourself. Your former enemy becomes a part of you.
So, something happened, something nobody could ever have counted on.   That’s how God works.  We call it, grace.
·       God’s grace in Madiba unlocked a different future - for South Africa – nothing that the world could have dreamed possible
·       For the first time white South Africans were talking to an African leader who understood them from within himself; who within himself had experienced a seismic shift and allowed the cultures to meet and reconcile.  A man who presented a new way of being a South African, a way that included all.

·       At a critical hour – here was the man South Africa needed and, another gift of grace, he coincided with F.W. de Klerk (that courageous and gritty Afrikaner President: who released political prisoners; who persuaded white South Africans to abolish Apartheid; and who, with Madiba, opened the way for a democratic South Africa).  Something nobody could have counted on.

·       Symbolic gestures opened hearts and brought the new united South Africa into reality. For me, most poignantly, it is the memory of Ellis Park , the 24 June 1995. That still warms my heart and can bring me near to tears.  Madiba wearing the Springbok jersey; white South Africans roaring in acclamation, ‘Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!;  Madiba presenting the Web Ellis trophy to Francois Pienaar with the words ‘Thank you for what you have done for our country; and Pienaar’s wonderful response: ‘No Mr President, thank you for what you have done for our country.’   Some of you may remember that in the post-match interviews a commentator remarked to Pienaar on the 63,000 crowd supporting the Springboks and Pienaar replied ‘No, we had 42 million South Africans supporting us.’
Grace – the unimaginable thing happening, something nobody could have counted on.  We have been witnesses; we have been brought close to it.  Thank you, Madiba.
Albert Schweitzer said:
Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.
Let that be so for us.  Thank you, Madiba.

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