“Hey! How about a South African Sabbath?” Lanette proposed.
“Great idea! What’s that?” I responded.
And thus began a small miracle…whose ripple effect increased through the coming weeks.
Part of our rhythm here at Incarnate is to hold a weekly Sabbath service, starting sundown Friday evenings, ending at sundown the following evening— following the Jewish tradition. Our ‘liturgy’ is quite simple: asking ourselves a question: what do you need to cease from? (“Sabbath” literally means ‘to cease from.’)—followed by a time of reflection and communion.
Singing, sharing and praying for one another, we move pretty organically through our time. And before taking communion together, we ask if any relational difficulties have cropped up during the week that we need to resolve. After communion, we close our week with a celebration meal, and each one enters the ancient-future practice of Sabbath. It’s one of the highlights of the week for me.
When Lanette, one of our former students, now on staff with us, proposed a South African Sabbath, I was thrilled. For one thing, we could begin to give students more ownership of the service, and we would all get a broader view of Sabbath—a South African one. I didn’t know exactly what all that meant, but had a vague idea there would be a change in musical style, perhaps some anecdotes born out of South African culture, with perhaps a meditation giving a unique slant on the Sabbath we may never have heard before.
And so the following Friday arrived. May, part of our OM Arts team, a personal friend, and from South Africa, pulled me aside that morning and shared something: God was asking her to do something and she didn’t want to do it. Oh…since we were about to launch our first session of the day, with no time to talk, I gave her a hug, and we were off. The South African Sabbath flew far from my mind—safely being prepared in the hands of others.
But again, during our small group time, May shared with the group that God had asked her to do something that she didn’t want to. We prayed for her to find the courage to do whatever it was God was calling her to, and I felt confident she would do so, knowing May’s character. And then it was time for Sabbath.
Sundown. Hansie took the helm, introducing us to some of the South African history of apartheid. Um….not what I had in mind, I thought, but let’s see where this goes.
Then he called May up; she took the mic and pulled a stool forward. On her lap sat a sheave of notes, but I’m not sure she ever referred to them. I wondered if she would ask ‘the question’—what do you need to cease from?—or share how she practiced Sabbath growing up in South Africa.
Instead, May began recounting stories of growing up ‘colored’ in apartheid—under the control of the minority whites. (As you may or may not know, there are three ‘races’ in South Africa: whites, blacks and coloreds.)
The stories were hard to hear, hard to imagine—hard to know my friend had to grow up in this injustice. Her story, close to that of so many in our country who endure “discrimination” (to put a pretty word on it), made me want to weep. I found myself begging God for forgiveness for the oppression of racism.
May concluded with “I have one more thing to say,” then choked up. The silence went from awkward to excruciating, until she got her voice back. Looking straight at Hansie and Lanette, white South Africans, May asked their forgiveness for what blacks and coloreds have done to whites. Hansie and Lanette rushed forward to hug May. The backstory: last November, Hansie and Lanette had been victims of armed robbery—by blacks—while on a visit home to South Africa. They are still working through the trauma.
Not a dry eye in the house was left, as these three hugged and cried together for long minutes. I felt the very country of South Africa must be affected by this reconciliation. I was never more proud of my friends.
Then it was time to take communion together, and Hansie called Elbie forward—the 4th member of our South African contingent—to serve us each communion. I don’t remember when or if the tears stopped, as we participated in the meal representing the ultimate pathway to reconciliation, remembering the One who said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing."
“Do this in remembrance of me.”--Jesus