Tag Archives: passover

The Wordless Easter Sermon

download (31)“Oudoom will give the same sermon he delivers every Easter Sunday.  I don’t feel like going.” Vetfaan sips the strong coffee Boggel served, pulls a face and puts down the mug. “He’s always going on about the stone that was rolled away, and the significance it has. Now me? I’ve got enough stones to roll away. I think I’ll sit here and contemplate my life while you guys go.”

The rest of the group sees the determined look on Vetfaans face and decides not to argue. He’s been in a morose mood all week, so picking a fight with him right now isn’t going to help.

Living alone on a farm has many advantages. Vetfaan doesn’t have to get up or go to bed at set times. He usually starts his day when it’s quite dark still, and often flops over into his bed soon after sunset. Meals are simple affairs of bread and whatever else he can find in the fridge. It also allows plenty of time for thinking.

He’s spent a lot of time contemplating life lately. Politics, relationships, the meaning of life, love, hope  and dreams have been foremost in his mind. Somehow, the state of the world and the way we live just doesn’t make much sense to him at this stage. So, under the awning in front of Boggel’s Place, he allows his mind to roam over the events of the year since last Easter. It’s been a good year, a bad year, a happy year, a sad year. He remembers his moments on Springbokkop and the reassurance he got from them.

He’s so engrossed in his thoughts, he doesn’t hear the approaching footsteps. It’s only when Oudoom lays a hand on his shoulder that he wakes up from his reverie with a start.

The whole congregation is there, standing quietly in the sun, in front of Boggels Place.

“They know my sermon by heart,” Oudoom smiles wryly, “but I think they finally got the message. This year I’m not going to repeat it – instead, I thought I’d preach the most important sermon Jesus ever delivered.”

Vetfaan recovers sufficiently to raise an eyebrow. “The Sermon on the Mount? That’s quite something…”

“No,” Oudoom’s smile widens. “The silent one. When He rose from death, He didn’t announce it with a grand speech filled with big words. He left the grave quietly, alive, well. He didn’t need to say it, the Resurrection said it all. His most powerful statement, Vetfaan, didn’t need words.”

“Ja,” Servaas climbs up the stairs to the stoep to sit down next to Vetfaan. “So that’s what we’re doing on Ester Sunday. A sermon of silent love. It’s what our faith should be about, isn’t it?.”

Gertruida  reaches over to pat Vetfaan’s shoulder. “The message Jesus left us with, is to love God and one another, remember? Love, like we all know, needs no speeches. It is. It’s there in how we care for each other, the way we speak and the way we act. St James put it so nicely: faith without action is no faith at all. And St Francis of Assisi taught us to convince people of our faith in any way we can – and only  if we’re really desperate, only then to use words.”

It is a quiet day on Boggel’s stoep. Nobody needs to say anything.

And Vetfaan got all the answers he prayed for so much. Sermons don’t need churches. They don’t need fancy pulpits and long speeches. It’s in the silence of caring, kindness and respect that the message of the Resurrection is most tangible. Anybody can profess to believe, he realises, but it’s absolutely rare for people to live Christ’s most important statement.

Faith, he discovers on the stoep, is like the love of the little congregation holding their morning service in Boggel’s Place. Words aren’t necessary. Words tend to make things superficial, even meaningless. That’s why lawyers make a living by debating laws, politicians believe in their own causes and churches differ. It doesn’t matter what you call your religion, or what ideology holds your truth. It even matters less if words have been the stumbling block in your search for truth.

Trusting that inner voice to guide one’s actions, is what it’s all about. It’s in this wordless sermon we start to mean something to others.,

(Don’t watch this without a box of tissues…)

Pass-over

“Servaas, you are particularly cantankerous these days.”Gertruida sits down next to the old man, rubbing the small of his back with a soft hand. “I think you should talk about it. Something is brewing in that grey head, and I think it must come out. You can’t go on like this.”

Servaas looks up at Gertruida’s face to see the kindness and concern there. Suddenly, tears well up. He sniffs loudly.

“It’s nothing, thank you. Something that happened a long time ago. 30 years ago, to be exact. Long gone, not important any more.”

“You know better than that, Servaas. Sometimes those thoughts are the most dangerous of all. They sit there, festering away below the surface, destroying the little happiness you might still have left in you.” She pauses to do a little mental arithmetic. “Thirty years? That was 1982. The country was at war in Angola…”

“Super.”

“What?”

Operation Super. March 1982.”

Gertruida’s face lights up. “Of course! Servaasie! She lowers her voice as Servaas’ shoulders start shaking, “He was in a support group, wasn’t he? And a landmine got his vehicle?” When Servaas nods, Gertruida tells him she’s so sorry.

“Yeah. He died, and I failed…”

When the telegram arrived to announce the death of his only son, Servaas locked himself in his room. He came out once, to attend the funeral.  For three days and three nights he even ignored Siena’s pleas to come out, saying he was busy struggling with God. That was not true: he was fighting with God, accusing Him of being an unfeeling and unjust deity, unworthy of worship.

“How can you say you failed? You didn’t. You gave the best to Servaasie and the war wasn’t your doing, anyway. You’re being unreasonable, Servaas.”

On the fourth day, he opened the door and told Siena he’d be away for a while. She saw the terrible determination in his eyes and didn’t ask. He took a bag and his old hunting rifle, loaded it into the pickup, and drove off. Now it was Siena’s turn to spend her days on her knees, pleading  God to protect her husband.

He drove up the long, tarred road from Vioolsdrift to Grootfontein, only stopping for petrol and stale meat pies along the way. Three days later he stood on the banks of the Kunene River, gazing at Angola with blood-shot eyes. Camouflaging his vehicle, he stretched out on the back, and slept for a full day. Then, after a meal of bully beef and beans, he took his rifle and started looking for a way to cross the river.

His intention was clear: they took his son. He’d take one of theirs. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. When the evening came, he found a wide, shallow stretch of river where he waded through.

“Servaas? A one-man expedition against a trained army? What were you thinking?”

He lived off the veld, trapping small animals and drinking whenever he found water. The area was rather inhospitable, so he trekked more-or-less up along the river so as not to lose contact with the only reliable source of water.

And then, one night, he heard voices. Clear, singing voices. Voices joined together to sing a hymn – like only the people from Africa can. Multi-tiered singing, combining bass and soprano in alternating verses, praising God.

Servaas never found out who did that singing.

He returned home.

“You did the right thing, Servaas. How can you say you failed?”

“I failed God, for a while. I got angry and turned my back on Him. I was quite prepared to kill anybody I met in Angola: man, woman, child, soldier, civilian. Anybody. Just to feel I took some sort of revenge.”

“Remember the ten plagues, Servaas, and how the first Passover came into being? It was the blood of the lamb that was the sign. Those with the sign, survived. The others didn’t. The same thing happened to you. The hymn was the sign, that’s all. It’s actually a beautiful story.

“You passed them over – whoever they were – just like the plague did the Jews in Egypt all those years ago. And now, with Passover upon us, you should celebrate it, not sit and mope about it.”

“But I never got my revenge, Gertruida!” The old man’s face contorts in a picture of regret. “Now I live with this emptiness inside me. I wanted to fill it, but couldn’t.”

“You know, Servaas, the biggest, worst, most horrible form of revenge is … forgiveness. You cannot fight hate with hate. Hate can only succumb to one force; and that’s the force of love. If we were to be punished for every sinful thought, every sinful action, life on earth would have been impossible. We all may live in hope, because of Passover. It is given to everybody, but it’ll cost you. Not everybody is humble enough to accept it; the proud ones refuse to reach out – and continue hating, continue seeking revenge and justification.”

“Are you telling me I’ve been missing the message of Passover all these years, Gertruida?” A new sorrow has found it’s way to the wrinkled face as the eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

“Passover. Forgiveness. Redemption. And all those rest on Love. They’re all the same, my friend. There’s only one trick: reach out and make it your own.”

Tonight, Servaas will go home with a smile. The empty space inside his mind has been filled. By being passed over, he has been passed up, in a manner of speaking. Up: like in nearer to the wisdom of the Throne, not like in forgotten. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite an exhilarating freedom, something quite new to him.

Anyway, like Gertruida says; make sure you’re passed over and passed up before you pass on.