“Come to the living God … Come to stand alongside those who suffer
Come to those who seek freedom … Come to resist all that offends God’s justice
Come to Jesus as He hangs on the Cross … Come to the living disturbing God.”
DURBAN, South Africa — A precursor to Easter sunrise and call to commitment is the now 30-year ritual Good Friday packing of the International Exhibition Center with 3,000+ ecumenical congregants participating (with dance, choir, prayers, and prophetic preaching) in the call to “Arise – Act for a Just Society.” Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip set the scene with a moving historical reminder of the reason for the 1985 first march to the central prison. It was to protest the silencing of the 16 Durban “treason trialists” (including congregational deacon Archie Gumede, post-apartheid member of the first multiracial Assembly, and Frank Chikane, Apostolic pastor and future President Nelson Mandela staff chief). Family members of the incarcerated and current elected leaders carried a cross to city hall, calling all to love mercy and act justly. We paused to give thanks for their courage at the one remaining wall of the prison now in the front plaza of the iconic convention center. When the first march 30 years ago stopped to sing and pray, “voices were heard from inside the prison joining in the singing of Good Friday hymns.”
Sojourners founder-president was quoted at length by Bishop Rubin, as a reminder of Jim and Joy Wallis’ mutually impacting pilgrimage visit to South Africa last fall.
And then this prayer:
“And then loving God, give us strength and persistence to carry out our dreams and put our faith into action that your power may fill us and those with whom we work that together we may carry out your will for a world that protects, sustains and nourishes, for a world where each person and each part of creation is cherished, for a world where your healing, justice and peace will prevail. Amen”
“Keep on walking” was the riveting title of the Easter sermon at Durban’s St. John the Baptist Anglican Church on Easter Sunday morning. Zimbabwean Preacher /Rector Forbes “Tino” Maupe was inspired more by Mark’s Gospel narrative of Mary and Mary Magdlene's march to anoint Jesus in the tomb — then by the Johnny Walker’s whiskey mantra. They were undeterred by the presumed barrier of the huge stone and Roman soldiers. Although likely they were deep in discussion about what to do if confronted by a one-ton rock and soldiers with spears, they “kept on walking” only to find the problems resolved — and all without the aid of the muscles or weapons of the disciples who had all fled in fear. Like men through the ages, as Father Maupe said, they had “other agendas” to attend! Obviously women’s role in the early church and until now was extolled to exuberant response.
To worship again in congregations of five or six ethnic and language groups, where no matter their tribal mother tongues, all are struggling with the challenges of corrupt governance, AIDS deaths, underemployment, challenging marriages, widowhood, being unregistered aliens in a xenophobic violent society, etc., was a soul-stirring experience. In addition to the Martin Luther King-type preaching cadences, especially transforming were the roof-raising hymns sung mass (by newly minted PhD Rev. Eliza Getman) and prayers in Khotsa, Zulu, and English. The Easter experience set all feet on the forward path of trusting even when the odds of success or fulfillment of hope rested only for many on the risen Christ and his promise of fullness of life.
The message of Good Friday/Easter events in South Africa is always to “keep on walking” on the “Long Road to Freedom” — keep on marching no matter the odds. As with lady apostles on the way to the tomb or us at our society’s prisons, South Africa is a reminder that it is not foolish to believe that even the most humble efforts to stay on the path here in America, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, etc., will lead to a breaking down of walls of injustice and a rolling away of stones of oppression.
CREED OF HOPE FROM DIAKONIA DURBAN
In the midst of hunger and war…
We celebrate the promise of plenty and peace
In the midst of oppression and tyranny
We celebrate the promise of faith and hope
In the midst of doubt and despair
We celebrate the promise of faith and hope
In the midst of fear and betrayal
We celebrate the promise of joy and loyalty
In the midst of hatred and death
We celebrate the promise of love and life
In the midst of sin and decay
We celebrate the promise of salvation and renewal
In the contemplation of the dying Lord
We celebrate the promise of the living Christ
Tom Getman and his spouse Karen have traveled frequently over the last 30 years in South Africa. He serves on the boards of Sojourners.