And it is a good morning, because Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
A Happy Easter to you all, and a warm welcome to the chapel at Bishopscourt, the home of Anglican Archbishops of Cape Town.
The Bible readings I have chosen for today’s homily, from the Second Book of Chronicles and the Gospel according to John, evoke images of the pestilences and plagues that have been inflicted on the world throughout history, but also speak of God’s promise that if we humble ourselves and turn from our wicked ways, God will hear us and heal the earth.
The challenge which the coronavirus pestilence presents us with in South Africa may yet become one the greatest faced by any nation. Our people are vulnerable, with many having compromised immune systems, their homes in densely-packed townships, living in crowded accommodation and often needing to travel to places of work on public transport. Our economy was already struggling before the crisis, with high unemployment and low levels of growth, partly caused by narrow self-interest that superseded the interests of the common good.
But we are not alone. We may be vulnerable as a country, but this disease does not see race, gender, class, wealth or poverty, and most importantly for the human family worldwide, it does not respect borders. It carries no passport.
That is why this crisis is one that unites all God’s children, wherever in our country or the world we may live. In South Africa it is not a “township” disease. Those who live behind high walls are not immune: it will spread fast and far if we allow it to, and it will cause havoc.
While we must ignore the scare-mongers, not give them airtime, and not re-tweet their messages, we must pay close attention to those with medical expertise, led by our health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize. We must give our full support to the government’s crucially important priority: screening everyone, testing those who need to be tested, tracing others who may have come into contact with infected people, and treating those with COVID-19.
Above all, as people of faith, listen to what Jesus says at the beginning of chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
We live in different times and we are going to need bravery, foresight, strength and the courage of our convictions to get through this crisis. We will never be the same.
But after the agony of Good Friday, there always comes the hope of Easter, the hope of new beginnings. We will overcome this challenge, and if we approach the future with hope, we can emerge from the pandemic to build a better South Africa and a better world; a more equitable future, a more just future, a gentler future.
We need to rise above stale ideological debates between left and right, rejecting both unbridled globalisation on the one hand and narrow nationalisms on the other. We must create a world in which our economies are underpinned by the fundamental values which all the world’s major faiths share, in which people come before profits.
In South Africa, we need to be bailing out the people, not those state-owned enterprises which are guzzling our resources but don’t serve everyone. We can no longer afford enterprises whose existence is a matter of national pride, not of human survival.
Especially among the political class, we need to promote the moral and ethical handling of our resources, both during this crisis and into the future. We need to be building up the agricultural and technological sectors of our economy, and creating jobs which pay a living wage. We need to end spatial apartheid and attack with new vigour the building of residential areas in which our people are not forced to live cheek-by-jowl in shacks.
Not only in South Africa, but across the world, we must learn to live out the interdependence which this pandemic has demonstrated that we all share.
How do we harness the goodness and the soldarity that this crisis has brought out of us?
We need a new economic model, an alternative to the current governance of global financial systems, and one which seeks robust, practical ways to transform the market economy from a self-serving mechanism for elites to one which serves our environment and all God’s people.
Pope Francis has warned us that “a healthy economic system cannot be based on short-term profit at the expense of long-term productive, sustainable and socially responsible development and investment.” And our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has remarked that our current crisis is leading to calls for “‘a new moral economy’ that has people and their welfare at its centre.”
Finally, I want to extend the deep gratitude of all of us to our health workers, to our police and soldiers, to public service workers, to petrol and shop attendants and to all the others who provide essential services during this time. They are our heroes. My thanks too go to members of congegations and clergy for praying from home and keeping the faith, and a special thank you to the Church’s COVID-19 teams coordinating our response to the pandemic.
Let me end with a comforting verse, written by St Paul from prison to encourage Timothy to guard the Gospel. In Chapter 1, verse 7, he writes to Timothy:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
God bless you, and God bless South Africa.
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba