St Michael’s Day, Sunday 1 October 2006
Eureka Congregation, ELCSA, Cape Orange Diocese, Elsies River
Texts: Psalm 100.3 and Ephesians 4.15-16
Church of Sweden Hymn 588:1 and 3
Hans S A Engdahl
Theme: We are all Coloureds
When thinking about the Coloured people of South Africa I have been reminded of a Swedish hymn from the 19th century written by J O Wallin, later also Archbishop. The first line goes roughly like this: “the whole human race of one blood the great God has formed”.
We as human beings are in fact all related to one another through the one blood. The existence of an in-between group, like the Coloureds, reminds us of that.
Science confirms what we knew all along in our creed: God is the creator of the one family of humankind. There are differences and particularities in their thousands, that is true. But the things we have in common and our likenesses are infinitely greater.
Not only that, in order to keep the human family sound and healthy there is a great need of interaction between the various groups of humans. The fate of those who are caught up in narrow in-breeding is fearful as one can read in one of André Brink’s books.
The first thing we should note then is that we need to pay respect to God’s creation which was good when God created it.
Do we pay respect to God’s creation of the one humanity on earth? That is to say, are you able to respect and love each individual you meet in the road or at the workplace regardless of which particular group he/she comes from? Do you realise that that particular person is God’s creation? Do you show respect and love?
The Word of God also contains a warning. In my translation of Psalm 100.3 my verse reads: “it is he that has made us, not we ourselves” (and we are his) (verse 3b).’
It is a word to modern science not to manipulate human life and how it is born into this world. He is our creator, but many are not even allowed to be born. He is our creator but biological parents are now being by-passed by surrogate ones. A child’s right to and right to know (who is) his or her father and mother is in jeopardy. But here it is more than enough for the moment to stress anew and afresh that God is our creator; that is creator of all humanity as one human family. As pastor Melando said last Sunday, we are of God for in creation he breathed his spirit into us and without that spirit of his we would not even breathe the air or live.
Genesis also expresses this same thing in the following beautiful way: God created us in his own image… Genesis 1.27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The only distinction one can read out of the text here is male and female; yes, that is how God created us.
Se we see that we are of the same human blood stream. But blood has also been shed for us in a decisive way.
The third verse in the Swedish hymn writer’s hymn starts something like this: “The whole human race with one blood was redeemed, in purity, humility and patience preserve the unity of the spirit.”
The verse simply confirms that the human blood was blessed by God in a special way. It is the blood of Christ on the cross that has redeemed us from all sin and made us friends with God and with one another again. This is what we call reconciliation. It was however not an automated action seeing that human beings are no robots.
We are free at least to the extent that we can say no to God and do our own thing going our own way, at least for a while. God cannot, does not want to force us, coerce us into his redemption and salvation. The nature of love goes against that kind of enforcement. So the option is and has been only one: offer this new blood stream through a new discipleship and community.
This is what St Paul talks about in Ephesians. The blood of Christ is the life line in the body of Christ. As disciples we are a part of his body; that is the church. With all her shortcomings the church is what we have. That is, despite all her weaknesses, the church is Christ’s vehicle towards redemption and salvation. St Paul gives a very concrete expression of how the body of Christ works:
“Christ (the head) from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and up builds itself in love” (verse 16).
What we can see in front of us is an organic life, which is sustained by Christ as the head. There is then quite an intricate close relationship in the body, between the different parts and with the head, the Christ.
Many comments could be made on this text. Let us make only two. First, the community, which is the church, is a physical reality just as much as a spiritual reality. (See how God created the first human being, Adam.) We are thus talking about a tangible, touchable reality in the midst of society. Second, being a part of this body does not mean being enslaved at all. The linking up into this body comes with a great deal of freedom under responsibility. It is not about being physically confined to the same group of people and the same physical building the whole time; not at all. For one, Jesus himself went away to be on his own, on a regular basis, as it seemed. There may even be good reason for some to repeat the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert!
When St Paul spoke of the church here as the body of Christ he had the whole universal church in mind, at that time on the eastern side of the Mediterranean in Corinth, Ephesus, Jerusalem, Rome and perhaps even Spain. For us today it is vital that the reality of the church is not confined to one local place. The church was global from its inception. Wherever there are baptised Christians there are joints and links which concern us other Christians wherever we are.
Our local responsibility then is “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (verse 15). To grow here is expressing the constant readiness to be in mission, to be mature enough to make new bold contacts, take new initiatives, bring new people, fresh blood, into the fold and system.
This growth in maturity has just as much to do with a responsibility towards the wider church, the Christians on the other side of the road or the railway. They are also brothers and sisters. Do we care? Do we want to be with them? The truth is, we have already admitted to being with them by being in the church of Jesus Christ in the first place. In Christ there is only one church, do we understand that? We have a direct responsibility to the others in the 35th street, but just as much to those on the other side of the railway line.
In such a fashion, in this global and local church, we are called to speak the truth in love. It is through and with the blood of Christ that we are redeemed and saved. Sharing in the Holy Communion (the Holy Eucharist) we inevitably become blood-brothers and blood-sisters one with the other and with Christ. This is so, but for a reason and for a grander mission. We are not able to rest on our laurels and for ever enjoy the fellowship of the few local brothers and sisters only. We are called to something greater and sometimes more demanding:
This bond of friendship has to be extended to other parts of the body of Christ still unknown to us.
This bond of friendship made real with the blood of Christ is there for a wider purpose. It is there for the rest of humankind, for all humankind. And you are now called to extend the hand of friendship to any other of God’s human being, for as we know, we are all from one blood line, of one blood.
So why say “we are all Coloureds”? Sometimes I think that the way we form our identities and allow our identities to be formed is in a frightful way connected to our outer appearance. Many years ago I led a study circle on “who was Jesus Christ?”. It was a study of him as a person. It would be nice to do such a study group again. However, what we discussed was among other things that nobody knows what he looked like. A young man, perhaps just over 30 years old, that’s all. The Bible does not give much. It says in prophesies that he was beautiful to behold, but also that he was so ugly that people shied away from him. What a blessing in disguise that we do not know what he looked like!!
Had we known certain people would have liked to make him their own more than others….
Now we don’t know.
How irrelevant must it not be to talk about race and looks when seen in this perspective! Race is a social construct created within the colonial Europe and the West and it still lingers on in South Africa. One day the notion of race will be obsolete and gone, but not yet.
In Sweden people are also concerned with race but would be ashamed to admit it. But there are many ways by which to judge whether a person is a recent immigrant or a proper “genuine” Swede. The existence of a pure race is a sheer myth. The idea of blond Nordic people is also a myth. Some are, some are not. Barbro’s father had pitch-black hair when younger, so had my father.
So the notion of a pure race was important to South Africa and those who came to be called Coloured fell in between.
It is perhaps not so pleasant to recall the racial divides which came to constitute South Africa but the reality is that these divides still occupy the mindset of people.
One of the most liberal Afrikaners could say the following fifty years ago, not that long ago (and I dare not quote, I spare you from quoting the other Afrikaner F J M Potgieter but it is available in print for those who are interested). This is what B J Marais wrote around 1950:
“[I]n South Africa, the Mulatto, or hybrid, is ostracised by the whites as well as by the non-white group. He is truly the stepchild of our civilization and of our society… The hybrid is a citizen of no-man’s land and the psychological effects of this fact alone are sufficient to doom him to inferiority in his own mind. The fact that in the past the ‘hybrid’ has been, as a rule, the result of an extra-marital relationship, has deepened this prejudice against him, and made his position impossible.”
However a drastic change has set in all over the world since then – also in South Africa. To be a hybrid, that is to be of mixed background, was the worst possible scenario. But things have changed radically. During my visit to Malaysia in 2004 I was interviewed by two newspapers and this is what I said:
“[M]ixing of races was prohibited during apartheid but despite of this fact a substantial mixed group the Coloureds had resulted. During apartheid these were regarded as a non-people in the eyes of those who were in authority. In democratic South Africa they are an asset and a blessing.”
From curse to blessing, do you agree? For, to be a coloured is to be a human being, created by God, one way or the other related to all other peoples under the sun.
It must be an honour to be included in such a people which are not only a people but more than that, an ever present expression of our common humanity. That means that the identity will be found in the engagement with the Other, rather than when one just sticks to those who fall under the same categorisation of the previous regime.
Therefore, when you meet an Afrikaner you don’t meet a stranger; he/she is already related to you and is part of your blood. When you meet a Xhosa you also do not meet a stranger; he/she is already related to you.
When you meet an Angolan, you are already related to him/her, as the Angolans came to the Cape as slaves. When you meet a Malay or an Indonesian, or Indian, or a German or a Swede, you are already related to them. The Swedish connection can be heard when names like Eksteen, Bergstedt, Anderson, Peterson are pronounced. Your identity will not be secured by confining yourself only to those who through apartheid were classified Coloureds. Your identity is already out there, with the others.
Thus we are all Coloureds in the sense that we are related to all by being God’s creatures in his common humanity. We are all created of one blood, the human blood.
Again, and secondly, we are also all redeemed with the same and at the same time different blood, that of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and will be for ever. Amen.