Ecclesiasticus 4:20–28; John 12:24–36

Yesterday in all the services celebrated here in the National Cathedral and in all the services celebrated throughout the Episcopal Church throughout the United States, we heard these words prayed:

O God, whose Son the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep; we give you thanks for your faithful shepherd, Janani Luwum, who after his Savior’s example, gave up his life for the people of Uganda. Grant us to be so inspired by his witness that we make no peace with oppression, but live as those who are sealed with the cross of Christ, who died and rose again, and now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Who is this Ugandan Archbishop who “gave up his life for the people of Uganda,” who has inspired the Episcopal Church “by his witness that we make no peace with oppression”?

Archbishop Luwum was born in 1922 in the Kitgum District in northern Uganda, near the Sudanese border. He spent his childhood and his early teen years tending goats, but then became a teacher because he had the reputation of being a “quick learner.” On January 6, 1948 Luwum was converted to Christianity. As George Piwong-Jalobo has written, “At once he turned evangelist, warning against the dangers of drink and tobacco, and in the eyes of local authorities, disturbing the peace.” In 1949 he went to theological college and was ordained a deacon in 1955 and then a priest in 1956.

In 1969 Luwum became bishop of Northern Uganda, where he served faithfully the parishes and people in that diocese. It was also during this time that he became involved with and had a growing influence at international gatherings of the Anglican Communion. In 1974 he was elected Anglican Archbishop of the Church in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire.

Archbishop Luwum’s new position brought him into direct contact and ultimately, confrontation with, the Ugandan military dictator, Idi Amin. Under Amin, there was widespread terror, but it was not uncommon to see the Archbishop at the dreaded State Research Bureau, helping to secure the release of prisoners. Luwum sought to protect his people from the brutality of Amin’s regime

In 1976 tension between the Church and the State got worse, but by January / February of the next year, 1977, the Archbishop was denouncing the deaths of thousands of Ugandans by the hands of the Ugandan government. He accused the government of abusing the authority that God had entrusted to it. The government responded by a 1:30 am raid on February 5th on Luwum’s home. The Archbishop then went to President Amin to deliver a note of protest, signed by most of the Bishops in Uganda. Amin accused the Archbishop of treason and he arrested Luwum, who was put on trial with six other bishops, on the trumped up charges of “smuggling arms.”

On 16, February, 1977, the Archbishop and the other six bishops were tried. Luwum was not allowed to make any verbal response in court, but shook his head in denial. The President concluded by asking the crowd, “What shall we do with these traitors?” The soldiers replied, “Kill them now.” The Archbishop was then separated from the other bishops. As he was taken away, Luwum turned to his brother bishops and said: “Do not be afraid. I see God’s hand in this.” The Archbishop was taken away, never to be seen alive again by his family, his friends, or by his flock, to whom he had been such an exemplary shepherd.

It is important that the Church remembers today Archbishop Luwum, lest we forget what oppression means. There is not a country, civilization or culture that does not need to be reminded today about the personal sacrifice that Luwum made so peace would not be compromised with oppression. There is not a country, civilization or culture that does not need to be reminded how easy it is to fall into tyranny and oppression.

The Gospel for this afternoon puts it quite succinctly, “ Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also…walk while you have the light, so the darkness may not overtake you.”

“Walk while you have the light.”

We can not be an outsider to the injustice that Luwum and the people of Uganda experienced under Idi Amin any more than we can be an outsider to the agony that Janani Luwum’s people in Northern Uganda are experiencing today. As another martyr, El Salvadorean Archbishop Oscar Romero reminds us, we are called to liberation. “Christ appeared, shaking off oppressive yokes, bringing joy to hearts, sowing hope. And this is what God is doing now in history.” As Christians we are called upon to be Jesus’ hands here on earth.

Archbishop Luwum was not afraid of political power. He was not afraid to speak the truth of the Gospel before Idi Amin. Luwum does not speak to us today from a distance; instead, in his person we encounter a man of God who calls each one of us to conversion, who calls each one of us to action. He helps us today to walk in the light so peace will not be compromised with oppression. His life has been sanctified by his martyrdom and his life is for all people, not only for the people of Uganda and Northern Uganda, but also for those of us living here in the United States.

I believe this is the challenge that Jesus gives to us today. I believe this is why the Church remembers and celebrates the life of Archbishop Janani Luwum today. To remind us that at the core of the Gospel is the call to justice, and that each one of us is called to make “no peace with oppression.” For us today in our ministry, here in this Cathedral and in this nation, the eight Millennium Development Goals are a good beginning.

Truly we will know no peace until we eradicate the oppression of extreme poverty and hunger.

Truly we will know no peace until universal primary education is achieved.

Truly we will know no peace until gender equality and women are empowered.

Truly we will know no peace until child mortality is reduced.

Truly we will know no peace until maternal health is improved.

Truly we will know no peace until HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases are combated.

Truly we will know no peace until environmental sustainability is ensured.

Truly we will know no peace until global partnership for development is achieved.

And I would like to add one more challenge. That we will know no peace until governments speak and work with those with whom they differ, and with whom they call enemies, be it the United States and Iran, or the Government of Uganda with Northern Uganda and Sudan. Until we break down those barriers, in our respective countries, how many more Archbishop Luwums are going to become martyrs around the world, because there is no peace with oppression?

Let us pray:

We give thanks for your faithful shepherd, Janani Luwum, who after his Savior’s example, gave up his life for the people of Uganda. Grant us to be so inspired by his witness that we make no peace with oppression, but live as those who are sealed with the Cross of Christ. Amen.

“Do not be afraid. I see God’s hand in this.” Amen.