All African Anglican Conference on HIV/AIDS: Closing Eucharist Homily
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August 16, 2001
All African Anglican Conference on HIV/AIDS:
Closing Eucharist Homily - Archbishop of Capetown
The spirit of the Lord is upon me...
Over and over at this workshop we have heard these words of
affirmation coming from, not someone else, but our own lips and I
trust our hearts.
In that same spirit I am asking you to accept a challenge to action
starting right now, at this holy moment and in fellowship with your
sisters and brothers that have worked and prayed so diligently over
these last few days. Yes, a challenge to action, now, no delays, no
excuses, no turning back. We are marching in the light of God and
nothing can stop us.
The cries at the beginning of the conference of "what can we do, we
don't know what to do" in light of this pandemic have, to some
degree, thank God, been answered. Our campaign for a generation free
of AIDS must take the form a marathon run. There may be hurdles; yes,
but stamina, tolerance and understanding will lead us on to our goal.
The road is long but I believe the people of God, in response to the
need of the people of God, will enable a reduction of this pandemic
to a manageable disease. As one of the partners groups' said, there
is an hour of decision, it is truly Hope Reborn.
I believe, and I say to my brother primates, that what the people of
God gathered here have done together, will make a difference. We have
to form a partnership of trust along with that new hope. We want
others to join us in that partnership.
We have been graphically reminded of the fact we are called to be the
active force of God in the midst of a crisis that must be declared by
a weary world as a global disaster. I am often bedazzled by the
magnitude of what we face as a people, the African people.
Yet before we as Anglican Christians, gathered from the vast regions
of Mother Africa, start our individual campaigns demanding government
commitment in being instruments of prevention, care and education,
which we must do, let us first, with true repentance and sorrow, look
at that those things "done and left undone" regarding the pandemic of
HIV AIDS in our midst. Why have we waited so long? We say, yet it is
through our weakness that we gain strength.
It was the stirring testimony of a young Ugandan priest, whose life,
though a life that is lived as one with HIV, that transformed the
hearts of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in their annual
gathering in March 2001, to break the yoke of pre-occupation with
internal matters and minutia and compelled us to become not only
those "who save souls but also save lives!"
Celebrate life, yes, that is our calling, that is our goal, but how
can we sing the songs of Zion while watching individuals,
communities, nations and a whole continent being threatened with
extinction. As Mam Graca reminded us, we are not talking statistics,
but names, sons, daughters, family, friends. Orphans, the isolated,
some so so young, infected even at birth.
The way ahead is a rough road. We have focussed our eyes each day of
a wooden cross super-imposed on a map of Africa. Our way of the cross
continues, it began before we arrived and continues its journey in
the days ahead. Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa, his last moments, but
he was aided by Veronica and Simon of Cyrene along the way. At the
cross the faithful beloved friend John stood valiantly with His
Mother Mary, a vigil of terror, a vigil of horror.
We as Christians know how the story ends. New life breaks forth on
that Easter morning and women, not the obvious choice at that time in
history, women were not held in high regard, and certainly were not
equal to men. These women were told to go and tell, who? the apostles
that God had raised Jesus from the dead. God uses what society,
taboos and culture may say is inferior to shake the foundations of
our ignorance and bring a new dawn.
Our chaplain reminded us of the interfacing of the word stigma and
stigmata, the latter being an almost holy word, when as tradition
tells St Francis, another mover and gospel shaker, receives the marks
of the five wounds of Christ, truly living the passion of Jesus, in
his own body.
Stigma points to our inability as humans to cope with one who is
different than we are�black/white, rich/poor, gay/straight,
old/young, clergy/laity, depressed/elated�any fact or notion that can
be used to separate can bring that word stigma to fall upon a person
with the weight of the Cross that our Lord bore to Calvary. Pilate
asked the crowd, what evil has he done, he says I find no fault with
this man, yet the crowd, and isn't easy to follow the crowd, shout
crucify. The murmurs were - well there is just something about this
man "we" don't like. Some found AIDS more tolerable when it was
considered a homosexual disease, or indeed a black person's disease.
The scene has changed. Frankly, our lack of action, our prejudice,
our indifference places a sentence on those we have chosen to ignore
or wish would go away. Our abuse of scripture and authority in these
matters is shameful. Isaiah makes it clear that the Messiah bares our
infirmities and carries our diseases. Yes, he carries the pain of HIV
AIDS. Yet with that burden and by his stripes we are healed.
Let us as global Anglicans not forget that the struggle of HIV AIDS
is one that has universal implications. It is not secret that
statistics are reporting more cases in the Western world. A major ad
campaign exists in the cities of Canada. Others in our Communion
struggle, as the people of my Province are keenly aware, of the
ravages of undeclared war - the scenes from Jerusalem or the news
from Northern Ireland, shock us as we see, in the midst of what
appears to be a modern society, stigmas abound.
Language, race and culture can be brutal forces of separation but
isn't it interesting that at the Day of Pentecost, the diversity in
all the languages, customs, vesture, brought unity. This is the great
gift we share as the Anglican Communion. We say in the liturgy,
though we are many, we are one. So be it.
The words echo again "The Spirit of the lord is upon me�" Lord send
that Pentecostal power, and send it today. How can we forget the
words of St Paul when he says in 2 Timothy 1, rekindle the gift of
God that is within you�.say no to cowardice, rather take on a spirit
of power, love and self-discipline.
In the sacred institution of the church, we unfortunately fall into
many traps that divert us from the gospel imperative of peace with
justice, and upholding the dignity and freedom of all, even of those
who threatened and attempt to disfigure our dignity. Sometimes I feel
the church is so preoccupied with sexuality and the sins thereof that
we forget to look to the sin of neglect, bigotry, exclusiveness, and
fear that often resounds from our pulpits.
Sexuality is a gift, but at times incomprehensible. It has the aura
of mystery that we often cant grasp. It carries to that depth within
us called human love. I am always grateful every time I pray the
words of the Confession of Sin in our worship as Anglicans, that I
know that I am forgiven, I am reborn, and that I am a child of God as
I partake of the broken body of Christ within an often broken
Christian community. Scripture assures me that all have sinned and
come short of the glory of God. I am grateful as well as hopeful that
such a reality can mean new life, new hope and a new experience of
love for me. Jesus asked the crowd, let the one without sin cast the
first stone, I ask the same today!
We have learned, with the help of dedicated caring people that have
facilitated us over these days. They have helped form the campaign
resources for our work as we leave the safety of this place to the
stark reality, the realism that awaits us at home, church, school,
wherever God leads us.
I was encouraged by the words from Graca Marchal as she spoke of the
the government action in Botswana. Go home and pray, fine, but also
extend this challenge of action to those who govern in your country,
on every level.
Did you ever imagine in your life, that you, as an individual, as an
Anglican, as a human being, as an African, could make a difference
between life and death in the lives of others. It is an awesome task,
but it faces us clearly. Our healing comes from that which only touch
and care can bring. Words like abstinence, faithfulness in marriage,
and the sometimes necessary means of protection ring loud and clear
and must be heeded. We must take responsibility for our own actions.
The complexity and consequences of sexuality is a part of our
The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us how stigma and prejudice
can destroy hope and renewal. The verse before the story contains
what we call the Summary of the Law. To me these words, that have
echoed through time, are also words of hope, not just law.
Love God, maybe that is not so hard, loving neighbor, now that can be
a challenge, and love yourself. Maybe that is the hardest of all.
The Trinity of Love, God, Neighbor and Self, allows us to be
surrounded by the Trinity that we worship.
The strength I have felt in my own being these past days, I trust and
pray, will sustain me as I continue to tell the world that God loves
them, Jesus cares, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to move
ahead. Strategy, vision, mission are all elements that can make this
more than a meeting, but more like a launching pad, where we are
thrust into a world of "sin and strife" that is begging, pleading,
and needing us to be people of the spirit and the force of God in the
I do not take the personal challenge given to me by the Archbishop of
Canterbury, and you my brother primates, in our last meeting,
lightly. I ask you as primates here today to pray with me that we may
challenge each other, as those entrusted with the leadership in this
beloved portion of the Anglican Communion, to action. Hands on
action. You know we enjoy the respect and dignity of our office, I
challenge you today, in the name of Christ the Healer, to use that
office to inspire, challenge and uphold those in our charge who can
make and will be lights to enlighten the nations and to be the glory
of thy people everywhere in the crucial days ahead.
Yes, we say The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me, and so it is, but lets
allow that spirit to be the driving force in our challenge for
Now is the time, now is the day of salvation.
Let the people say, Amen.
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