Readings for the feast day of Albert John Luthuli, July 21, 2017:
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells the disciples that “the hour is coming”–but many things, not just one, will come with that hour. He tells them that the hour is coming that he will no longer speak of God “in figures” but plainly. He tells them that the hour is coming that he will leave them and go to his Father. He warns them that the hour is coming that they will be scattered and leave him to be seemingly alone, but that in truth he will not be alone, but with God. Perhaps it is a fitting lead-in as we celebrate the life and witness of Albert John Luthuli.
To this day, the circumstances of what actually happened when the hour came that ended Albert Luthuli’s life are still in question, but when we hear his story, we see the life of a man who tried to live as if the hour of Christ’s return was imminent. We know him as the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960, given to him for his nonviolent struggle against apartheid. Yet he was so much more. Preacher, teacher, and nonviolent activist, he was such a mighty force against apartheid, numerous bans were placed upon him in his 69 year life. He certainly must have heard the call we hear in our Epistle today, that the Prince of Peace was powerful enough to make two groups one and break down the walls that divide us.
Albert Luthuli was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1898, the son of a Seventh-Day Adventist minister. His father died when Albert was young, and his mother moved the family back to the ancestral home in Natal. His training was as a teacher. He later embraced Methodism and became a Methodist lay minister. In 1944 he joined the African National Congress (ANC), becoming its president in 1952, a title he would hold until his death.
In his lifetime, he endured charges of treason, travel bans, and arrests. Yet he never raised a hand in anger, preferring instead to wield the power of the pen, and the power of public assembly to speak up against an unjust system.
The circumstances of his death remain mysterious and with unanswered questions. He was reportedly accidentally struck by a freight train on a railroad bridge near his home and killed, which his family questioned almost immediately. Yes, he frequently walked alongside the train tracks when traveling by foot–but his family insisted he was a creature of habit, and would have known what time the trains ran. (The official report claimed it was a windy day and didn’t hear the train.) In 2005, the family requested that an investigation be held regarding the circumstances of his death. In 2017, they are still waiting for that investigation.
Albert Luthuli’s story is a reminder that we still await the hour that is coming–the hour that all truth is revealed and the world is reconciled. Meanwhile, may our actions and works in the hours we have left on this planet speak in a way that we believe that it is near.
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a Priest Associate at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.