Remembering the Greatest Political Leader of the 20th Century: Nelson Mandela
Today I had the great honor of saying a prayer at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the most important political leader of the 20th century. This was an honor, not only because of Mandela’s stature on the world’s stage, but because he was someone I admired very deeply and personally. His fight for justice and reconciliation is one that has inspired me in the work that we do at Sojourners.
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There were several highlights of the service today. There were several choirs, two of which brought each mourner to their feet, clapping along to their versions of Shosholoza and Siyahamba. There were many beautiful speeches and recitations, including a reading of Maya Angelou’s poem for Mandela called “His Day is Done.”
But what stood out to me the most was the homily by Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, Director of the Desmond Tutu Center at Christian Theological Seminary, Butler University. As he paid tribute to Mandela’s life and described his “long walk to freedom,” he punctuated his remarks with “it ain’t over, until God says it’s done,” a quote from Maurette Brown-Clark’s song of the same name.
Those words stirred my soul as I sat there, nine days into a water-only fast with Fast for Families. As I looked out on the crowd, I could see my fellow fasters there too, wearing their “Act. Fast.” hoodies. We have given up food for over a week because we believe that—no matter what the pundits say—the fight for commonsense immigration reform “ain’t over until God says it’s done.” Yes and amen.
The prayer I prayed today is printed below. Would you join me in remembering this great leader and carrying on his work, recalling his words that, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”
All merciful and loving God, we give thanks for the witness of your faithful people in all generations. Especially today, we give thanks for your son and faithful servant, Nelson Mandela: for all that he is remembered for; for all that he was to those who loved him in South Africa, to us who loved him here, and to all who loved him around the world, and for everything in his life that reflected your mercy and love. We give you thanks for how he taught us and the whole world your ways of justice, and also forgiveness, for how he turned righteous anger into the power of reconciliation.
We thank you Lord how you were with him every day he was in prison, showing him the path to freedom, for how he became free even before his captors released him. And his long road is the one we now ask you for the strength to walk.
We thank you God, that for him sickness and sorrow are no more and that he is at rest with you. We believe that you have welcomed him as an honored guest at your table.
Today we also pray for ourselves, that we may throw off the sin, the anger, despair, and cynicism, that so easily beset us and that we may run the race that is set before us, with we Christians looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. We thank you God that our dear brother Nelson, our father Madiba, was such a strong runner, always running ahead to the places we need to go: to freedom, to fairness, to human dignity, to the true justice that only makes for peace. Help us to run like him and to run after him.
And we thank you God that we remember Nelson Mandela in this Christian season of Advent, a time of radical and expectant hope. As he waited for 27 years in prison, expectantly and always hopefully for freedom to come to his country and people, now strengthen us with his indomitable spirit to wait with expectant hope for all the things we today long for in our lives and in this world.
Thank you Lord, how Nelson Mandela taught us the meaning of the Scripture which says “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And thank you for teaching us theology of hope through our brothers and sisters in South Africa. Thank you dear God, for how Nelson Mandela showed us that hope means believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change. Inspire that evidence changing hope in us today.
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Today we commit ashes to ashes and dust to dust, but Nelson Mandela and his spirit will never die, but live on in us forever and ever. Amen.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His latest book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.