Pictured above, Archbishop Jwara (left) was among those leading the annual ecumenical Good Friday procession through the streets of Durban.
The light has to be brightest when the storm is at its worst
The following message from Archbishop Mandla Jwara was published in the Sunday Tribune on Sunday 17 April 2022.
Christians of all denominations will this weekend be celebrating Easter – the belief that Jesus of Nazareth, after dying a horrible death, rose back to life and that in so doing he offers eternal life to all. After two years of disruption because of the pandemic, we finally have the chance to fill our churches (or at least fill them to 50% capacity) with the song of Alleluia.
But this is not an easy Easter. In our chancery, the telephone lines are down and we have no water but this is nothing compared with the hundreds of families mourning the loss of loved ones killed in the devastating floods. Thousands will find themselves cut off from their homes, having seen then washed away or having had to evacuate for fear of further destruction. Hundreds of thousands across our province will be affected by power cuts, lack of water and loss of livelihoods. How will they sing Alleluia?
The floods have been made worse by poor preparation and degenerating infrastructure. But human beings also try to bring disaster on each other. Some of our neighbours will this Easter be living in fear that their jobs, their property, or even their lives are at risk under the nasty threat of new racism which tries to disguise itself with that fancy term of xenophobia. How will they sing Alleluia?
While Christians celebrate Easter, members of our small but vibrant Jewish community will be marking Passover. As Durban recoils from the impact of disease, riots, floods and corruption, do we fear that, like the Israelites, we are also about to face plagues of locusts and frogs? Sometimes it feels as if there is no hope.
But that is exactly why Easter is so important – as I meditate on Jesus’ suffering on the cross my eyes are fixed on the day of Resurrection. The Jewish festival is called Passover because they remember that, even when faced with 12 plagues, and then 40 years in the desert, the chosen people eventually reached the Promised Land. Our Muslim brothers and sisters, now halfway through Ramadan, are reminded that for some each day after fasting comes a feast, while others have no choice but to keep on fasting: either way they recall that God, having created humankind, does not forget us.
What unites all people of faith is our sense of hope: our belief that a better outcome is possible. That is why Christians pray to God: “your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”. Hope is what motivates us. So many of those who have responded to the devastation are people of faith. Our hope in a better future motivates us to want to make the future better for those around.
The response to Easter is to sing Alleluia. And the noisier the chaos around us, the louder that Alleluia has to be. Archbishop Denis Hurley, my own predecessor of blessed memory, having grown up in a lighthouse knew that the light has to be brightest when the storm is at its worst.
Our Alleluia can take so many forms: it is the act of offering help or clothes or shelter to those who are suffering from the floods; it is the welcome and the protection that we extend to all our neighbours whatever their nationality; it is the ongoing generous donations and volunteering that support the poor through our charitable works; it is the refusal to give in to crime or corruption or fraud even when we think we can get away with it. These are our Alleluias and the louder they are the more they will inspire others.
As we sing Alleluia we can return our country to what God created it to be. To sing Alleluia is to share the gift of life and light and hope – even when faced with the fear of death and darkness and despair. The Hebrew texts shared by all the Abrahamic religions offers us a stark contrast: we can chose life or we can choose death (Dt 30:16). Each one of us has a chance to make that choice, every day in so many different ways. And each time we choose life – for ourselves and for others – we are singing the Easter Alleluia.
Be assured, that as we celebrate our Easter services we will be praying for all flood victims, all affected by xenophobia and intolerance and all who are suffering.