Dear Parishioners, Clergy and Bishops
The busy-ness of Holy Week took an unexpected turn yesterday, Maundy Thursday. During the week I had prayed with President Cyril Ramaphosa over the phone and crafted special collects for him, reflecting a meeting of our minds. Then, late in the day, it was confirmed that he and Mrs Ramaphosa had accepted an invitation to join us from Gauteng in a virtual Good Friday service with my family and an online congregation.
This set off a scramble in which I drafted a liturgy and prepared a 12-minute homily overnight, and an SABC satellite truck arrived at Bishopcourt bright and early to set up cameras in the chapel and make sure they had a good satellite link for the service at noon.
In the meantime, I had fortunately pre-recorded for St George’s Cathedral my contribution to their Good Friday service, which Dean Michael Weeder hosted from the Deanery, also at noon. I meditated on Jesus’s Seventh Word on the Cross, and you can follow their whole service on the YouTube video below this reflection.
A good number of people, including Bishops and retired Bishops, joined my family – Lungi, Nyakallo and Paballo – in the chapel on Zoom video-conferencing software. Connectivity and sound levels proved a problem for a live broadcast, and getting an unrehearsed choir to sing, with all the delays that Zoom entails, was hilarious. But we accepted that this was a home service which – although not choreographed and full of glitches – was offered to the glory of God and had its own beauty. [The service can also be viewed below.]
The main readings and prayers, read by my family, Mojanku Gumbi and John Allen, as well as online by Bishops and the Dean of Johannesburg, came across well enough, and we were privileged to be joined by Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, who ended the service with Prayers of Blessing.
I used Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33 and 1 Peter 1:10-20 for my text, highlighting the parallels between the Easter story and what we face now, noting that as all humanity fights this pandemic, we are aware that no Good Friday lasts forever. In a few days we will hear the angel say: “He is not here, he will meet you in Galilee”. After the agony of Good Friday, there always comes the hope of Easter, the hope of new beginnings.
President Ramaphosa also addressed the nation during the service, in which he explicitly spelled out the meaning of Good Friday and Easter to Christians, likening the coronavirus pandemic to “a heavy cross being carried on the shoulders of all of humankind.” He also thanked the Christian community for our pastoral and charitable work. You can read his full text here
I finished off my working day with an interview with Thobela FM, the SABC’s Sepedi service.
President Ramaphosa’s extension of the lockdown in South Africa for another two weeks was a tough call, but we have to save life and at the same time work out how we can get economic activity going again. Looking to save both people’s lives and their livelihoods at the same time is a difficult, tight balance to achieve – like the paradox of Christ’s death also being his glorification. But we know that if we share in his death, we also share in his Resurrection.
I am grateful to every one of you. May we all carry Christ’s Cross and ours at this time, assured that He is ahead of us.