Coronavirus a Heavy Cross to Bear

Easter sermon urges people to keep hoping

On Good Friday, the President of South Africa and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of Anglicans worldwide joined Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba for a noon Zoom service that he lead from the chapel of his home at Bishopscourt in Cape Town. I was part of that service.

I was one of about a hundred people who joined the Archbishop and his family in the virtual sphere. Our Zoom congregation included Bishops and retired Bishops from the sprawling Anglican Province of South Africa community stretching from Angola to Mozambique. For me personally, it was a bit of a rush to join in. I was still doing chores in my flat in Berlin, Germany, dressed in my track suit when I got the last-minute invitation to join (Explainer: as a journalist I cover ecumenical affairs). So I needed a quick change of more appropriate clothes and a bit of make-up to join in.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa joined in from the Union Buildings in Pretoria where on Maundy Thursday evening he had extended the strict national lockdown for South Africa by another two weeks until the end of April, in order to try and prevent the spread of Covid-19 infections in that country. South Africa currently (Easter Sunday) has just over 2,000 confirmed infections and 25 deaths, but testing is not done widely and figures probably not reliable.

The President read the first lesson from Lamentations 3:1–9. (I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the LORD’s wrath.)

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Screenshot of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa during the Zoom service. © Anli Serfontein

Alone in lockdown in Berlin, far from my family in South Africa, I watched and heard the message of the service, which was one of hope in the darkest hour.

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Part of the Good Friday Zoom service in my flat in Berlin. ©Anli Serfontein

Off course the online service did not always go so smoothly, with many not muting their microphones, obviously overwhelmed by technology, providing background noises of babies crying and men coughing, or people in stage whispers talking to each other, just like in a real church in Africa. I felt at home.

At another point President Ramaphosa was inadvertently muted, which provided a light moment.

It was quickly fixed and welcoming him back Archbishop Makgoba smiling said “We said somebody muted the President, that is not allowed.”

President Ramaphosa replied smilingly “It is good that we can use technology to worship as we do. It is indeed my honour to join you at this time of holy fellowship to millions of Christians around the world. Although we are not worshipping as we normally do, we are indeed together in mind, in heart and in spirit. We are strengthened by the invincible bonds of faith and fellowship.”

Ramaphosa continued that:

“The coronavirus pandemic is a heavy cross being carried on the shoulders of all of humankind. Rich and poor, young and old, black and white, men and women suffer under its weight. But the message of Easter is also one of hope, of recovery, of triumph and of rebirth.”

He recalled the darkest days of apartheid — the policy of racial segregation. “We South Africans are a resilient people. We endured the worst excesses of a dark past and were able to emerge, united and strong. The virtues of courage, of optimism and of compassion carried us along the path to freedom, and they are what sustain us today.”

President Ramaphosa said that it will require further sacrifices. Since March 18, 2020 the country has stopped the entry of non-South Africans and schools and universities have closed. Since midnight on March 26, 2020 it has been on a total and very strict lockdown.

“This is a time of great trial for our country. We will at times find ourselves and our very faith sorely tested. Yet we know that the harshest of tests pushes us to persevere and to prevail. Working together, side by side, we will weather this storm and we shall overcome. Humanity will rise again,” President Ramaphosa concluded.

Archbishop Makgoba in his sermon also called on South Africans to make even greater sacrifices to save thousands of lives and not to relax or be complacent, as the solutions will not be immediate.

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Screenshot of Archbishop Makgoba delivering his Good Friday sermon ©Anli Serfontein

“In South Africa it is not a township disease, those who live behind high walls is not immune, it will spread fast and far if we allow it to,” the Archbishop warned.

“As all humanity fights this pandemic we are aware that no Good Friday lasts forever. In a few days we will hear the angels sing “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. We will overcome this challenge. And if we approach the future with hope, we can emerge from the pandemic to built a better South Africa, a better world, a more equitable future and a more just future,” he concluded.

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Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby ©Anli Serfontein

Archbishop Justin Welby, joining in from Lambeth Palace in London in the United Kingdom, ended the service with Prayers of Blessing. “Lord God in this season of fear and uncertainty as we face the threat of the coronavirus grant us all wisdom and determination to walk in others shoes.”

President Ramaphosa afterwards thanked the faith community for the vital role they have played in supporting the national effort to contain the coronavirus.

The service and sharing with many people I hardly knew, lifted my spirits. I was thinking back of so many Easters spent with my family as a child in South Africa, first the church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, then the Easter egg hunt on Easter Monday. And later with my own children, the many German Easter traditions we had to observe from painting eggs to hunting for the eggs on Easter Sunday. I even baptised my children in a moving Easter midnight service in the nineties. The Protestant Church in Trier was a fourth century building, which was once the throne room of the Roman Emperor. But as German Chancellor Merkel said a few days ago, Covid-19 does not stop for Easter. This year is different. For me personally it is not a lonely time. It is a time of reflection and of solitude and of connecting in different ways with people.

In my solitude, hope and memories sustain me this Easter.

Happy Easter!

South African journalist, author & filmmaker in Berlin. Writing on southern Africa, Germany, politics, culture, films, books, interfaith. www.serfontein.org

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