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An Easter 2024 Sermon from the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba

Posted on: April 2, 2024 1:55 PM
The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba

An Easter sermon from the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Capetown and Primate of Southern Africa.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Sisters and brothers in Christ, thank you for joining us in our mother church on this most holy night, when we recall and celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. May you know the joy, the hope and the peace that the Season of Easter brings.

Thank you, Mr Dean, to you, to the parishioners, to the clergy, the wardens and other lay leaders, to the music director, the organist, the choir, the verger, the office staff, the cleaners; to all of you who ensure that we can worship God at such beautiful services, our profound thanks. We give special thanks for the Dean, who is here for his last Easter Vigil in his current capacity before retiring. We will celebrate his ministry at other services in the coming weeks, but for now, I appeal to you as a congregation to give generously towards his farewell.

As I prepared for tonight’s vigil, I was reminded of my mother’s voice. She was one of those who passed on wisdom in unstructured moments, popping up with sayings even when we were sharing something totally unrelated. I recall one such moment when we were walking to an Easter service on the dusty streets of Alex township. I was no more than twelve years old, when she passed on this gem: “Thabo,” she said, “Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity.” It is in that spirit that I have tried during these past weeks of Lent to absorb its lessons for how we should be living as a global family in the current age.

Globally speaking, it is as if we have lived this year through a very long Good Friday. Indeed, the shadows of Good Friday hang heavily over and destroy the lives of so many that the Resurrection seems very far away. Think of the millions of starving people in the Sudan, the insurgency in the DR Congo, where South African soldiers are fighting and dying, the violent chaos in Haiti and the war in Ukraine. Think of the fighting in Yemen, and the slaughter in Gaza, where genocidal rhetoric encourages the commission of war crimes in which men, women and children are killed and maimed with impunity.

In those places, the Good Friday sound of nails being hammered into flesh and the cries of “I thirst” are the only realities millions of people know. All around us the daily genocide of poverty and marginalisation, the constant bombardment of domestic violence and gender-based annihilation, echo deeply. For those victims and survivors, the cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the daily, painful way of life. Against this devastating background it seems almost callous to proclaim that “The Lord has Risen.”

But despite the cruelty, the hate, the pain, the suffering and the dying, the Resurrection says that embedded somewhere in their horrible midst, Easter breaks through. In Mark’s Gospel, we hear how the women courageously set out for Jesus’ tomb to anoint him that first Easter morning—despite the devastating experience of Good Friday, despite their fear, despite not knowing how they will roll the stone away from the entrance. We are told that the others, the men, cower behind locked doors, crippled by fear. But the women refuse to cower. Nothing stops them from following the prompting of love; neither the soldiers, nor the religious establishment. Mark is adamant that when there is courage, when people like those women refuse to be intimidated, then it is dawn, a new day arises and a new marker is placed in history.

Today we see the same happening again in precisely the places where suffering is at its worst. We see it in the courage of women who stand up to domestic abuse and violence, who organise and say loudly: “No more!” We see it in the courage of women who make extraordinary sacrifices for their children in a time of war. We see it in the resilience of fathers who go out, against the odds, and find food for their families in the midst of conflict.

We see it among Palestinians who continue to resist despite dying in a pitiless occupation at 20 times the rate of those killed on October 7th. We see it in the courage of those such as “Jews for a free Palestine” who say bravely, “Not in my name”, and in the determination of hundreds of ordinary Capetonians, young and old and of different faiths, to march from Simon’s Town to the city centre for the cause of Palestinian freedom. It is the combined efforts of all these campaigners that have produced, for the first time, a Security Council resolution mandating a ceasefire in Gaza, and we call for that ceasefire to be implemented immediately. If both Israel and Hamas do not put down their weapons, they deserve to become pariahs among civilised people.

Achievements such as bringing about a ceasefire reflect the stirrings of Easter. New beginnings, shifts in consciousness and new thresholds in history; all proclaim the Easter message.

Going back to my mother’s story, I remember shaking my head and trying to repeat her words (in Sesotho): “Thabo, omamele ka mafolofolo, ha Moruti a bua nnete. Ho bane otshwanetse ho tshepahala”. The intensity of those profound words kept echoing in my ears. I remember so clearly what the sermon on that Easter Day half a century ago was about, and that was the hope and the assurance that we could trust Jesus to end our apartheid world.

The entire Easter story is at its core about hope. Hope structures your life in anticipation of the future and influences how you feel in the present. The hope generated on the day I walked to church with my mother  still empowers me now. It enables me, despite the death-dealing of Good Friday, to continue to preach every Easter of the power of the Resurrection. So as we turn our eyes, our hearts and our minds towards the resurrection hope, let us, Listen with curiosity, Speak with honesty, and Act with integrity.

Over Lent, as opposed to heading off for a solitary retreat of reflection, contemplation and intellectual healing, I embarked on a different journey. Recognising that every sector in our South Africa has both a role and responsibility to shape both the discourse of our democratic landscape and weigh in on South Africa’s future state I embarked on a journey of speaking over the six weeks of Lent to leaders in six sectors. I hope that I indeed listened with curiosity, that I will now speak with honesty and commit to act with integrity in creating a context for hope to be felt throughout God’s world and church.

As South Africa gears up to mark the 30th anniversary of our liberation, and to hold our seventh democratic election, many of us feel the way the first people we now call Christians must have felt more than 2,000 years ago, on what we now call Good Friday: in despair and devoid of hope for the future. And there is plenty of reason to feel pessimistic.

Over the past six weeks I have been canvassing the views of leaders in business, education, the media, non-governmental organisations, the faith community, sport and the arts and entertainment industry. Common to all of their feelings is a decline in their trust of politicians and a deep anxiety that no leader, no party they see on the horizon, has the capacity to lead us out of our current morass.

For the best part of 30 years, most voters have given one political party the trust that it will champion and deliver equality of opportunity, that it will create jobs and defeat inequality. For perhaps 20 of those years, the governing party’s voters have woken up every morning in  the belief that those in power are there for one reason, and one reason only, that is to build a beacon of democracy and good governance, one with the highest standard of living on the continent.

At the beginning, it seemed those promises were being fulfilled. Between 1994 and 2007, gross domestic product grew an average of 3.6 percent a year. The number of people with jobs rose from eight to 14 million, and average income rose by nearly 40 percent in real terms. But then the trajectory changed. Between 2008 and 2022, average GDP growth dropped to 1.2 percent, the number of people with jobs increased by hardly a million while the population grew by 10 million, and on average people became poorer in real terms.

But now we are caught in a miasma of corruption, which has become the cancer that permeates every level of our country. In the words of our former president, Thabo Mbeki, his successor set out to destroy the SA Revenue Service, the very institution which gave his administration the financial means to govern. Institutions linked to the State—Eskom, Transnet and others—were looted. This rot has spread down to provincial and municipal level, and in some respects it has its roots in practices which go back the full 30 years of our democracy and further. None of our rulers—including of course those from the apartheid era—can claim a total lack of responsibility for our current plight.

Not only has the country been devastated by corruption, we also suffer the decay that results from mismanagement. From national to provincial to municipal level, basic maintenance has been neglected, to the degree that many communities are going without water and we can’t drive on many of our roads without potholes damaging our cars.

Perhaps worst of all, our 30 years of freedom have produced the most unequal society in the world. The elite of all races enjoy salaries which enable them to travel in private vehicles and buy private medicine, to live in private homes with burglar alarms in safe suburbs, and to be protected by private security companies. Meanwhile the poor and the marginalised must depend on run-down public transport, public hospitals that in some provinces are badly managed, over-stretched police and shacks prone to fast-spreading fires in informal settlements.

As churches and other faith institutions in society, we dare not be neutral in this election. The widening gap in income is a threat to social stability for all of us, whether we are rich or poor. It demands that on May 29, whether voting at national or provincial level, or for an independent candidate, we must cast our vote for the option that will most benefit the poor and the marginalised. The future of all of us depends on it.

So this election is not simply an election for a party. It is an election which calls us to decide for or against continued corruption, for or against inequality, for or against misgovernance. We need to examine party manifestos, but then—just as important—we need to decide whether we believe the parties are capable of implementing those manifestos. We can judge a party which has had power at a local, regional or national level by its past results, but we also need to ask of parties which have never had power: have their leaders ever shown, in business or their previous jobs, that they have the capacity to do what they say they will do?

As we contemplate an election in which we have an unprecedented range of new parties to choose from, we need to test the parties against a number of key questions. Some of them are:
    • How will you create equal opportunities for all?
    • How do you propose to reduce polarisation and work collaboratively with others to the benefit of all?
    • What do you as a party see as the specific challenges facing education and what are you going to do to remedy them?
    • What exactly do you plan to do improve the reading skills of learners?
    • How will you combat children dropping out of school early?
    • How will you work with communities and NGOs to create policies that really model equality of opportunity?
    • How do you understand the experiences of people on the margins of our society, and what will you do to bring them into the economy?
    • How exactly do you propose to expand and bring about universal healthcare?
    • What exactly will you do to fix service delivery?
In evaluating the answers to these questions, we need to decide: Which party do we trust to do what they promise? Which independent candidate do we trust to do what they say they will? In the end, trust is about believing the promises others make.

There isn’t a more important decision that you will make this year than how you will vote on May 29. The future direction of South Africa rests on your vision of what our state will look like in the future and your judgement of who best can build it. And once a new government is in place, we can’t take our eye off the ball and leave governance up to political leaders. It will be up to every one of us to be vigilant, to remain involved in the political process and to lobby and campaign for the changes we have voted for to be put into effect.

The season of Easter promises us that this not only can, but that it will happen in South Africa, and that our hopes will be fulfilled.

Let me conclude this Easter message with these thoughts. The biblical priorities and hope-filled Easter message in the spirit of both the “Old Struggle” and our “New Struggle” are: we shall overcome the corruption; we will overcome our society’s social indifference; we shall overcome the inequality of healthcare, education and service delivery; we shall overcome the corrosive inequality of opportunity. In the end, good will prevail. Values and principles will prevail. A shared vision and shared purpose for South Africa will prevail. Equality will prevail. Truth will prevail. On the world stage, war and the genocidal killing of civilians will end.

The stone will be rolled away. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!