Friday, 13 December 2013

"Madiba" - he was, but I AM

"I am the way the truth and the life"... (John 14:6)

A gentle winding road - no longer one less travelled - sways all the way down the mountain pass. On one side the rock face glistens, moist and verdant with growth. Clusters of pink pelargonium flowers tumble down with a grace similar to the bridal bouquets held by solemn faced brides of earlier days. The other side is flanked by a dense green wall, with brief glimpses of the sheer drop shielded by their protection. Dappled sunlight plays through the branches overhead, and as the road stretches out and the curves lengthen, the wonder is over all too soon. Ahead the way is wide. It opens to a distant view of  silver waterfalls, strong after the generous rain. Eyes adjust to the harsher light as the hillsides give way to clusters of village settlements. Here, the mind has to sharpen to the presence of goats, cows and bony African dogs, roaming onto the road with a casual nonchalance. Smoke billows out of the sawdust tower at the local mill, a familiar landmark and reminder of the proximity of industry and commerce, even if only on a small scale.

The road leads past the Fort Hare University campus, the alma mater of Nelson Mandela. "Madiba", the name now more on everyone's lips than ever before. So many referred to him by that name, not knowing what it meant. It is the name of the Xhosa tribe to which he belonged, and it was considered an honour to refer to someone by the name of his particular tribe or clan. The brand "Madiba" outshines "Coco-Cola" and his face is probably one of,  if not the most recognisable in our history. He was loved and honoured in life, and is revered and idolised in death. He stunned the world at large with his ability to forgive, his policy of reconciliation instead of retribution. Silenced the prophets of doom who predicted mayhem and slaughter in our country at the time of his release. He showed people another way - the way of love and forgiveness, did they follow? Will they follow now, that his mortal body is no longer with us?

Sad as it may seem, people forget. The "mists of time" obscure the most noble efforts of man to be good, to make a difference. While we remember and bring our last respects to this special man, our hearts are filled with goodwill and love. A wave of his vision floods the country, stirs us to a "higher" calling. But then a spate of crime or a painful memory of abuse emerges, and the waters become murky again.

The memory of this man - Madiba, a truly wonderful man, will become merely a memory. A story parents love telling their children.

There was another man who walked this earth. Who taught and lived forgiveness with every aspect of His life and death. His "funeral" was attended by a handful of mourners, no lengthy eulogies were heard. His name carried a curse and His followers hid in fear of being persecuted. His grave was guarded by stern-faced Roman soldiers. No-one dared utter His name - the blood-streaked cross stood as a silent reminder of the way he died. A death of murderers, traitors.

The only perfect man who ever lived - the "Son of man", as he loved to refer to himself. What was His name, and why does it to this day still cause such offence to those who do not know Him? Jesus - Yahweh - I Am. Not named after anything or anyone, just that simple statement "I am". The same "I am" who appeared to Moses in  the desert, who always was and always will be.

How could this man profess to be; not only the Son of God, but the "I am" - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? This was seen to be blasphemy and still seems such a mystery... But then Jesus says to the disciples: "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) and then to defeat all doubt: "From now on, you know Him (the Father) and have seen Him".(v.7)  And again: "Anyone who Has seen me, has seen the Father" (v.9). The disciples must have looked a bit incredulous, so He reiterated: "I am in the Father and the Father is in me"...(v10).

So, he was buried without a ceremony, raised without a trumpet call, appeared quietly to a few and then taken up in a cloud to be re-united (made one) with the Father. In all He did, he gave glory to God, His words were the words of the Father, his claims the everlasting Truth. He did not call people to personal greatness through self-realisation or following in the footsteps of an earthly hero. He called the "contrite"(penitent, remorseful), the "poor" and the "peacemakers" blessed. But that does not mean that we have to shrivel away in a life of guilt and shame. His grace has covered that. Instead He says: "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me, will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father"! (v.12). Not because we are great men or woman, but because He lives. And always will.

Greatness is not an attribute bestowed on a few born to it. We are all capable of greatness as much as we are all fallen into sin and subject to temptation. The "greater things" that Christ promises become a reality if we submit to the One from whom all good comes. A greater light shines when His light shines through us, not the fleeting radiance of a life that stands out above the rest. The most glowing crowns await those who live lives in humble service to His glory. Who are content with the knowledge that He is. He is the reward, the everlasting life, the all in all.

A time of uncertainty stretches before us. More prophets of doom would have us believe that the future is dark and treacherous now that Madiba's light has left us. But Jesus says: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid" (v.27). We have the light of the Comforter and Councillor with us. The great "I AM" is preparing a place beyond this all.

Show respect where respect is due, but give glory and honour to the Holy Trinity of God alone.