Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This morning the Embassy of the State of Palestine in Pretoria released a poignant statement on the occasion of the 37th Anniversary of the Palestinian Land Day. It reminded us, who take for granted the freedom to celebrate Easter, that many Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza have not been permitted to enter Jerusalem this weekend to walk the very streets through which Christ stumbled, burdened by the cross, towards Golgotha.
It made me think of my many brothers and sisters in Christ scattered throughout the world who have answered the call to the mission field and who, this Easter, commemorate our Lord's sacrifice behind closed doors, away from family, far from home, in secret. I wonder, at times, if we in South Africa realise the precious treasure we have in freedom of religion.
It is but one of the gains of our democracy, for it is now enshrined in our Constitution that everyone may freely worship and exercise their faith, according to their own beliefs and conscience. Unlike many nations, our nation's history did not require a long and painful struggle for religious freedom. But our long and painful struggle for political freedom brought us to a place in which religious persecution cannot gain a foothold.
For that, we must thank the founding fathers of our liberation movement, who were men of faith, inspired by the message of the gospel. I recall the thread of faith running through my family and influencing me from a young age. Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, who founded the South African National Native Congress in 1912, was married to my mother's sister, Princess Phikisile ka Dinuzulu, the first born child of my grandfather, King Dinuzulu.
When I was growing up at my uncle's palace, I was surrounded by men of faith. My deepest Christian influence, however, was my mother, Princess Magogo ka Dinuzulu, who seemed to know all the hymns and psalms and could recite many of the Psalms of David by heart. Her singing filled my days and immersed me in a world of scripture.
Scripture began to shape my understanding and values, and became the framework upon which I built my life. My character was defined by a biblical value system and I often referred to God's Word when wrestling with a decision or problem.
That foundation prepared me for a life that has held more challenges, more wonder, more blessing, more hardship, more sorrow and more fulfilment than I could ever have imagined. I am eternally grateful that I had a solid rock beneath my feet when the storms of political mayhem erupted. I faced sustained character assassination and periodic attempts on my life. I stood at endless gravesides and said goodbye more times than I can remember. I grappled with discerning what was right, fair and just, in a complex environment that was often impossible to fully understand.
In all this, I knew that I was never alone. My Christian faith taught me that Christ had sacrificed first His omnipotence to become a man, then His comfort to reveal His message, then His reputation to become a friend of sinners, and then His life to reconcile man to God. Christ sacrificed more than I would ever be asked to sacrifice, and He did it for the joy set before Him.
I always knew this in my head. But in my heart is where it became real. In my heart I realised, over the many years of victories and losses, that Christ did not simply die to save the world, but that my Lord had died to save me. As the Apostle Paul wrote, even I, the chief of sinners, was worthy in His estimation of that unimaginable price.
That has changed not just how I see things and what I believe. It has changed me. It has brought me into relationship with a very personal, very intimate God. And that, more than all my knowledge of scripture, has sustained me and lead me throughout my life. For there have always been times when the busyness of my many responsibilities threatened to overwhelm me, and I could not etch out the time to read, or meditate or pray. That is an admission that no Christian wants to make. But it is true of every Christian.
What is equally true is that these times don't separate us from the love of God. They don't diminish His power in our lives and they don't ultimately take Him off the throne. God remains God. How awful for us to drift away and think that our destiny is irretrievably lost, when nothing has changed in God's economy. Salvation doesn't come and go, depending on our mood and deeds.
The central theme of the gospel is grace. It is God's undeserved favour towards us. Christ didn't lay down His life in the hope that I would be moved to become a better person. The hope set before Him, for which He accepted crucifixion, was that I would be reconciled to God in eternity. What happens to me in this world matters to God. But my eternal destiny has far greater value.
That gives me comfort and immeasurable relief. It tells me that I will see my children again, although I have laid them to rest in this world. It reminds me that my perspective should not be limited to the here and now, but should be measured out in terms of forever. How can I complain that anything is too much to bear, when it is a fleeting moment in the timeline of my eternal life?
These are the thoughts that occupy me as I go into another Easter weekend. I am grateful to have time with my family, as together we remember the sacrifice, and the love, of our Lord. My prayer is that every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever they may find themselves this Easter, will experience God's grace anew. And I pray, too, that all my brothers and sisters from other faiths and religious denominations will have a peaceful, safe and happy Easter weekend. May God bless us all.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP