A record attendance of more than 3 500 worshippers, among them heads of member churches and civic leaders, gathered at the Durban Exhibition Centre for Diakonia Council of Churches' 26th annual Good Friday Service under the theme The Cross of Transformation.
Revd Sue Brittion of the Anglican Diocese of Natal delivered the sermon for the early morning service while Revd Dr Ross Olivier, President of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary, gave a testimony on transformation.
In her message Revd Brittion reminded the worshippers that Christians cannot experience the transformation of the cross unless they are willing to live the life of Christ who challenged the political and religious structures of the time for their injustice, greed and hypocrisy, for their focus on a small elite and their self-righteous oppression of the rest.
"Transformation is not just about complaining to each other about crime and corruption and non-delivery of services. It is about discerning and then naming the evil. It is about accepting the awesome task of speaking out prophetically in the name of the God of righteousness, who requires justice for all people, particularly for those at the bottom of the pile, those who are poor, those who cannot find decent work, those discriminated against because they are different," she said.
"Transformation is about people of faith participating fully in the life of our city, our province, our country, our world. It is about us requiring, even demanding, accountability from those we elect to public office, and those employed by government to serve us," Revd Brittion said.
Noting that besides being Good Friday, the day was also Earth Day, Revd Brittion lamented the fact that creation is being crucified on the cross with Christ.
She said, "We stand at a crossroads. Planet earth is in crisis. The world is heating up even as we gather here. We already experience the consequences: more severe floods, droughts and extreme weather conditions all over the world. Inevitably those who are poor in the world are the most vulnerable."
Revd Brittion ended by encouraging people of faith to play their part on climate change to avert an ecological catastrophe. "Transformation is about taking responsibility for the future of our planet earth, our only home, by local actions to save water and fuel, to grow our own food, to prevent waste - and also by global actions to pressurise our government and the governments of the world to sign definite agreements at COP17 and put into place firm, measureable plans to carry out these agreements which could save planet earth as we know it," she said.
Earlier Revd Olivier gave a moving testimony of the story of his life from a convicted criminal to a religious minister and described it as a journey ‘from darkness to light, from self to God.'
"I did not have a religious upbringing. We never went to church as a family. Certainly my parents never spoke to my siblings or me about God or religion. I grew up without any conscious spiritual awareness. By and large, I grew up without any real sense of what are termed spiritual or moral values," Revd Olivier said.
Driven by an obsession to make lots of money as quickly as possible and with no moral conscience, he said, he started defrauding his employer which led to a three and half year prison sentence.
Revd Olivier said it was prison life that brought him face to face with the limits of his courage and endurance and made him feel ashamed and a failure.
He said, "I still recall with vivid detail the night my life was utterly transformed. In that moment my life changed forever. All doubt was removed and I knew with certainty that my life had extrinsic value. I had encountered John Newton's Amazing grace: I had been blind, but now could see; I had been lost, but now was found," Revd Olivier said.
"My life has been a journey of shaping and changing, of learning new values and deeper morals, a journey with many failures and lessons to be learnt along the way, a journey that has taken me from a prison cell to the top rungs of denominational leadership. I never cease to be amazed by my journey from prison to parish. I thank God for the power to have come clean, and to have stayed clean," he ended.
The traditional procession through the streets to the City Hall was led by various cross-bearers and a large banner reading ‘A transformed world is possible.'
The flowering of the cross also took place at the steps of the Hall. From the flowering, worshippers went to the prayer stations where they received a ‘prayer for transformation' from the clergy.
(Press Release by the Diakonia Council of Churches and used by permission.Visit them at www.diakonia.org.za.)