The Easter period is a significant religious date on the Jewish (Passover) and Christian calendars (Resurrection), and marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, which heralds renewal and hope. (One Islamic view is that there was no crucifixion or resurrection, but rather a substitution). This period is known as Chaitra in the Hindu calendar, the first month of the year, and on the first day of the New Year Lord Brahma started creating the universe.
According to Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation in 16th-century Europe, the promise for resurrection was written “in every leaf in springtime”. Shakespeare maintained, “April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”
In 2018, Easter Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of American civil rights leader, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr.
According to King:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
King emphasised a “commitment to God was a commitment to bettering humanity, that the spiritual practices of prayer and worship must be translated into concern for the poor and disadvantaged”.
King contended that the faith sector must “work to defeat racism, speak out in principled opposition to war and combat poverty with enlightened and compassionate policy”.
It is significant that internationally and nationally, prominent Christian leaders used their Easter sermons this year to focus on the perilous plight of humanity at various levels, and especially focusing on inhumanity and the lived experiences of the disadvantaged.
In the Vatican, the Pope called for harmony and peace in a world divided by conflict and violence, and emphasised the urgency to stop the “carnage in the beloved and long-suffering land of Syria”. He supported “reconciliation” in the Middle East which would benefit from “the fruits of dialogue”, and which could quell North-South Korean tensions. He also referred to the “hunger, endemic conflicts and terrorism” in different parts of Africa.
According to the Pope, in a world “marked by so many acts of injustice and violence”, the Resurrection presented a message of hope:
“It bears fruits of hope and dignity where there are deprivation and exclusion, hunger and unemployment; where there are migrants and refugees, so often rejected by today’s culture of waste, and victims of the drug trade, human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery.”
Closer home, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba reminded us that God has given us a second chance, to ask the question again:
“What kind of South Africa do we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in?”
According to Archbishop Makgoba, leadership change in the ANC has provided South Africa with hope, opportunity and a second chance to embrace a new struggle for “equality, a struggle about values and institutions rather than personalities, a struggle to build strong systems which cannot be undermined by one party or person’s whim … Let us resolve never again to allow our government and our leaders to talk us down, to let us down or to keep us down”.
He condemned the high levels of poverty in the democratic era, which were comparable with the apartheid period:
“The past administration trampled on our institutions and values, to the point where we now live in a South Africa that has the same inequality of opportunity, inequality of healthcare, inequality of social services, inequality of education and inequality of service delivery that our grandparents suffered.”
Shifting from the sacred to the secular, President Cyril Ramaphosa flew economy class (cynics called this a cheap publicity stunt) to Durban and spoke at the Covenant Fellowship Church in eSikhaleni on the KZN North Coast. When erring clerics allow politicians into the pulpit, this represents a form of abdication and desecration, especially when the former should be holding the latter accountable, particularly in terms of alleviating the plight of the poor. As Barney Mthombothi lamented, “when we can’t tell our priests from our politicians, we’ve lost our moral compass”.
President Ramaphosa asked the congregation to pray for unity in the ANC, which was divided because corruption had led to a loss of trust and confidence in the party. He emphasised:
“The ANC must serve the people of South Africa… where there was corruption, we must say goodbye to corruption”.
He stressed the need for law and order:
“We must do everything correctly within the law. ANC leaders must work for our people. Our leaders must be accountable for what we do. We must do everything in fear of our people. And do everything in service of our people. We must go down and humble ourselves to serve our people with dignity.”
His predecessor, former President Jacob Zuma, was largely responsible for the decline in law and order, and can now officially be called the accused (Malema’s taunts have become a reality!).
“There are many things that still need fixing in this country. On this great day, we ask that you pray to God to soften the hearts of those who looted everything so they can share it like the bread of Jesus that fed thousands despite being small”. (There is some ambiguity about whether the looters had relocated to Dubai.)
Known for always putting his personal interests and that of his cronies above that of South Africa, Zuma argued, without a hint of irony in an address to the Covenant Fellowship Church International:
“We must know that when somebody has been appointed to government, they are not elected for that party but for the interest of the nation.”
Zuma also had a message for his successor:
“In order to lead, you need to learn from your predecessor – those who have walked the path … so you can get guidance and advice, so that you can know where you are going.” (The subtext: turn a blind eye to corruption.)
Conceding that he had a difficult presidency, he complained in a speech at Thekwini Community Church on Good Friday that he was still being persecuted (and prosecuted) after having resigned:
“Everything has been done to me, even now when I have left … I’m not bothering anyone, but they are still after me. I am not surprised by that … But what I am saying to you as Christians is do not forget to lead and lead us to the Lord and plead to the Lord to soften the hearts of those oppressing us so that we don’t get to a bad place”. (Is Zuma referring to donning orange overalls?)
Confessing and acknowledging mistakes is an important act of contriteness in Christianity. Zuma will soon learn that the courts also deliberate on this when considering mitigating circumstances, which can reduce the penalty for the convicted.
The Resurrection offers hope for renewal, revival and resilience for some, while others fear a future too ghastly to contemplate. DM
Brij Maharaj is a geography professor at UKZN. He writes in his personal capacity.