Thought for the Day by Kevin Ward (St Michael’s)
Reading: Luke 1:39-56
The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Elizabeth
In reading this passage one can feel the exhilaration of the two pregnant women, as they looked forward to the birth of their sons, John the Baptist and Jesus. Mary’s ecstatic outburst, the Magnificat, is one of the most revolutionary and subversive protest songs of all time:
He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.Luke 1:52 – Evensong, Book of Common Prayer.
He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.
Last week I participated in an on-line seminar organised by the University of Pretoria in South Africa, to commemorate the centenary of the Bulhoek Massacre, on 24 May 1921. A large group of African Christians, belonging to a church called the ‘Israelites’, had assembled for its annual commemoration of the Passover – God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery. The Israelites, under their Xhosa leader, prophet Enoch Mgijima, prolonged their stay at Bulhoek beyond the passover occasion. Perhaps they hoped to organise an ongoing communal settlement there, as they awaited the return of the Lord. The government ordered them to leave ‘crown land’. Mgijima argued that this was not government land at all, but God’s, and that the Land Act of 1913 had unjustifiably dispossessed African people of their heritage by declaring at least 87% of the land of South Africa to be ‘white’. Armed police were dispatched from Pretoria and, after negotiations failed, they began forcibly to evict the ‘squatters’, using rifles and bayonets. Some 200 people were killed.
The speaker at the seminar reminded us that 2021 also marks the centenary of a terrible occasion of racial injustice in the USA – the Tulsa Massacre, which began on this very day, 31st May. Here a black area of Tulsa in Oklahoma had developed a vibrant commercial centre, nick-named the ‘black Wall Street’. Their success was resented by many whites. A trivial incident escalated into a rampage of mayhem, harassment, arson and looting, in which many people died, razing the shops and commercial area to the ground, and effectively destroying the African American community in that area for years to come. This tragic event has been remembered bitterly in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, whose murder at the hands of the police on 25 May 2020, has given rise to the international movement highlighting continual injustices against marginalised people the world over: Black Lives Matter.
Another speaker at the Pretoria seminar linked these events 100 years ago to the flu pandemic of 1919. She talked about the collapse of trust , suspicion of the efficacy of science, of a desperation which gave rise to millenarian groups. In South Africa the fact that the pandemic disproportionately killed off the young men and women, led one poet to call the dead ‘the beautiful ones’, the symbols of a better future tragically wiped out. Paradoxically, in stark contrast to those who looked for divine solutions, the pandemic gave a boost to the life-insurance industry, as people tried to find secular rather than supernatural solutions to life’s problems. Of course, insurance of all kinds is a necessity of modern life in a way that its was not 100 year ago. But, seeking short-term private well-being at the expense of the long-term public good is one of the big issues in today’s climate change crisis.
Mary’s Magnificat also poses questions for us during our COVID pandemic. Mary’s hope that Jesus will be the solution to the profound inequalities in the world – is it naive utopianism? Or does its indistinguishable spirit of hope strengthen us actively to participate in the struggle for a better more humane world? Can we, like her, with joyful exuberance magnify God our Saviour?
O God, to those who have hunger, give bread,Prayer of the World Council of Churches
and to us who have bread, give the hunger for justice.