At pivotal moments in human history, God graces us with saints to walk among us and to point the way to justice, peace and reconciliation. Desmond Tutu was such a saint, and we give thanks to God for his faithfulness and courage. He showed us what it means to spend one’s life building the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
Archbishop Tutu, perhaps more than most, saw the evil of apartheid in his beloved South Africa and challenged his countrymen – and indeed, the entire world – toward a better way. He understood that justice is not simply a concept to be grasped, but a challenge to be lived. Indifference to oppression, he warned, victimizes the oppressed, comforts the oppressor and grieves the very heart of God.
Yet Archbishop Tutu foresaw a second chapter in the battle for justice. He understood that the real evil of apartheid could only be truly defeated if there was honesty, openness and a willingness to speak the truth in love. The future he glimpsed for post-apartheid South Africa was a justice rooted in reconciliation, not recrimination. His leadership of an honest accounting of the sins of apartheid positioned his country for peace instead of retribution. Here in America, we would do well to follow his blueprint as we continue to wrestle with racism and the legacy of slavery.
With an exuberance for life and a twinkle in his eye that gave us a glimpse of his holiness, Archbishop Tutu embodied the joy, hope and love proclaimed by the gospel. He was also a great friend to this Cathedral, visiting and preaching several times, including as America marked the one-year anniversary after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
And so today we give thanks for this remarkable life. Gloria in Excelsis Deo, we proclaim with all the company of Heaven who are singing just a bit louder today, and dancing just a bit lighter, as they welcome Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the realms of glory and into God’s eternal embrace. This prophetic servant of God now rests at peace with his Creator. May we who follow have the courage and conviction to be the people he challenged us to be.
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith
Dean, Washington National Cathedral