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Bishop of Worcester's New Year message
2:21pm Wednesday 1st January 2014 in News
In the run-up to Christmas the media, quite rightly, gave a great deal of attention to the life of Nelson Mandela following his death. It was generally agreed that this most remarkable man was a giant who towered above all other leaders in the twentieth century. As Archbishop Tutu put it: "Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison was virtually flawless. Instead of calling for his pound of flesh, he proclaimed the message of forgiveness and reconciliation, inspiring others by his example to extraordinary acts of nobility of spirit."
The most moving account I read was by one of the chaplains who ministered to Mandela whilst he was in prison. On one occasion, Mandela gently stopped him during a service and went over to the young warder who was supervising. "Brand," he asked, "are you a Christian?" "Yes," the warder, Christo Brand, responded. "Well then, you must take off your cap, and join us round this table. You cannot sit apart. This is holy communion, and we must share and receive it together."
The Chaplain continued: ‘To my utter astonishment, Brand meekly removed his cap, and, joining the circle, received holy communion. I was deeply humbled because I, the priest, had not thought of doing that.
To appreciate the significance of this incredible act of inclusive love, one needs to be aware not only of its spiritual, but also of its political significance. The fact that Christo Brand was white, and that he had responded to an invitation from a black, and so naturally, was deeply moving. Brand had political power, but submitted to the power of the Holy Spirit working through Nelson, the prisoner.’
That’s one small but highly significant action in the life of this wonderful man. Nelson Mandela, through his loving and forgiving spirit which saw in everyone the image of God, brought hope not only to those of the multi-faceted nation of South Africa, but also to millions throughout the world.
I am one of the many millions who never knew Mandela but have been inspired by him. Someone said to me a week back: ‘I wish all those who admire Nelson Mandela so much would seek to emulate him. ‘Wouldn’t that be a good new year’s resolution for us all?
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