​Bishop Philip Huggins, Chair of the Social Responsibilities Committee for the Diocese of Melbourne, preached this sermon at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Service in St Paul’s Cathedral on 15 December 2013.
 

Starting with the Scriptures…

(Luke 4: 18–190 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,21 because he has anointed me to preach good news22 to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."

Jesus, embodying these words of Isaiah, in Resurrection energy, fulfilling this scripture in Word and Deed, gifts this same Spirit, Holy Spirit, to those with a passion for justice.
 
And so it is that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Nelson Mandela when he stepped forward to be a reconciling leader of his traumatised nation.
 
Some 10 years ago, our son Tim was working in South Africa as a young Australian diplomat on his first posting. The then Australian High Commissioner to South Africa, Ian Wilcox, is here tonight.
 
Tim took us to Robben Island where Madiba was imprisoned those long, long years, and underwent his inner transformation, which was described this week by Desmond Tutu: from angry revolutionary, for good reasons, reasons facing others like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to the person he became.
 
Many of you will have been to Robben Island. A tiny cell. A place of humiliation and deprivations. A place for the systematic, intentional, coldly vicious breaking of the human spirit.
 
A place to provoke and deceive, mock and demean; to entirely deprive of delight and hope.
 
We went to the quarry. Where the prisoners went for meaningless work in the hot sun, impacting on eye-sight and spirit.
 
It is when you have seen the physicality of his imprisoning, taken in all that was done to completely crush him, that you really recognise the magnitude of this work of a great soul.
 
When the time came, echoing the wisdom of Ecclesiastes “for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”
 
When the time came, and as St Benedict conveyed “all time is God’s time” for the most High, as chiselled into the stone above, is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the “One in whom all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
 
When the time had come, Madiba stepped forth from that cell, in the Spirit of the One who stepped forth from the grave, three days after Calvary, utterly resolved to be a reconciling leader of a divided nation.
 
And so a new day dawned in South Africa of the rolling plains, the big five animals, the wonderful Rainbow People.
It is such a great work of the Spirit to be utterly free of any bitterness, desire for revenge, able to forgive after such suffering and injustice.
 
Any of us here, all of us here, who have known bad treatment by others, know how hard it is to really forgive, to let go of a wounding past for the sake of the common good.
 
It is from the location of our own fragile efforts to offer such grace, that we recognise this true greatness of Nelson Mandela.
 
We, with the entire human family have been given such a lift in Spirit as we have farewelled this great soul of our time, of any time.
 
At a wedding this past week, a beaming African man, hearing me reflect on this lift Madiba has given us, showed me his beautiful child: “Mandela” by name!
 
As South Africa’s Father Michael Lapsley said poignantly this week: “Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Nelson Mandela had walked out of prison and said ‘It’s time to get them’. We would have died in our millions. It is said that revenge is when you drink poison and hope that someone else will die. Instead, he said ‘Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression  of one by another’.”
 
A white South African friend, here tonight, long involved in the struggle against apartheid, recalls when Madiba visited Melbourne, some 20 years back. Her children were young. As was his way “He headed straight for the kids … I was overwhelmed and lost for words,” recalled this totally extroverted, political activist who generally never draws breath! Such delight has he brought to people like her!
 
Our friend recalls, too, how he said in ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’, how he would have been happy to be gardener but felt compelled to take a tougher road.
 
So, remembering him this week has given us such a lift! Yes?
 
In fact, the entire human family, gathered in person and by media, in South Africa this week, have seen afresh the truth of the high teachings enshrined in the world’s major faiths.
 
About compassion and forgiveness, good news to the poor, letting the oppressed go free … being peace-makers.
Sometimes, many times, these great teachings, like Jesus’ “love your enemies” seem impossible in the cold reality of human failure.
 
Even whilst we recognise we have this one life as gift on our tiny planet in this vast universe and that we are one human family.
 
But then, when our hope is drained, into our midst steps a great soul to renew our hope and vision.
 
And the whole human family lifts in spirit and intent and Presidents shake hands after decades of division …
 
It is this which we must hold on to, as Madiba is laid to rest in his homeland this evening, our time.
 
Seeking that the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon us.
 
Seeking to grow in that moral strength which brings together a divided nation and world.
 
Recognising that this work “costs not less than everything” as the poet TS Eliot said.
 
Our son remembers talking to an ANC minister about the South African “miracle”. The reply: “It wasn’t a miracle. It was sheer hard work!”
 
And so it is for any struggle for justice.
 
These struggles are long, difficult and often unpopular. But when they’re just causes, we will persist.
 
Because, made in the Divine Image, people will endure imprisonment, false accusation, torture and treachery; they will be hunted and deprived, but they will be free!
 
There are many issues: from the incomplete journey of reconciliation in this land with our Indigenous People, to the 1 million children who are refugees from the tragedy in Syria, winter approaching, to the plight of asylum-seekers here …
 
Honouring Madiba, let us take from this Cathedral the intent that none of this is impossible to improve, to resolve.
Remembering the words of Mahatma Ghandi, another great soul whose legacy stays with us:
“Yes, the problems seem huge.
 
What we can do seems insignificant.
 
However, it is essential that we do it.”
 
Each of us... All of us together…
Rest in peace, Madiba.

Rise in glory we pray, with a wholly reconciled human family.

AMEN!
Alleluia!
One more time – so they hear us in South Africa:
ALLELUIA!
 

 Related news