I was recently speaking with a retired ELCA pastor who now lives in Cape Town who said to me: “South Africa is a place with overwhelming problems; and it’s a place with overwhelming promise.” This really struck me as true in this particular moment, days before the most recent parliamentary elections were to take place, because despite all of the setbacks and all of the strife and difficulties facing this beautiful country, there is still hope, and I can see it all around me. Of course, it’s easy to see the hardships and the despair. However, the promise that South Africa holds and the hope that her people have for the future outweighs these.
I heard this truth recently during part of the marathon of services that happen in many Lutheran Churches here during Holy Week. This particular service was the Easter vigil: a service that began at 4pm on Saturday and went until 10am on Easter Sunday. There was singing and dancing, praying and talking, lots of scripture readings, and some eating. I stayed until 10pm on Sat. and came back with a friend on Sunday morning at 4am, well before the sun came up. At this point in the vigil, we had taken our service to the graveyard next to the Church. When I arrived at 4am I saw maybe 50 people gathered around the tombstones and mounds of dirt in the graveyard, only lit by the light of the moon and the candles each person held in their hands. I’m not sure exactly what the preacher said, but what I did hear was this: there is hope at the tomb. Even in death, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. At the graveyard we lit candles in defiance of the dark. We had hope in defiance of the death around us. Once the pastor was finished speaking, each family went around to the graves of their family members and placed a lit candle on each of the tombs. My friend Nosipho was gracious enough to allow me to go with her and her family members, a niece and a brother, to visit their loved ones who had passed. Some left this world too early, others at a ripe old age, but Nosipho introduced them each to me with love on her face and hope on her lips. The darkness has not overcome it.
South Africa, as I see it, is in a place of transition and is full of possibility. Regardless of a person’s political leanings and despite all of the struggles and hardships that South Africa faces, we must remember that there was hope at the tomb. We must remember that when we look around, there is promise for the future despite all of the problems. When we go to the tomb and all seems lost, when the darkness and death seem to be seeping in through our pores, we must light those candles in defiance of the dark. There is hope at the tomb.
By Hannah W.