Michael Battle witnessing the body of Nelson Mandela (Sunday, December 15, 2013, Qunu)

Today, I am privileged to attend the funeral of President Nelson Mandela (Madiba, his ancestral name). I am now finishing 24 hours of travel to and from Madiba’s ancestral home in Qunu where the burial occurred. The funeral is over but my reflection has only begun. Being a theologian and Episcopal priest from the Diocese of North Carolina, I feel like a biblical writer trying to record the meaning of an epic life–prisoner to president; stone breaker; freedom fighter; truth teller; reconciler … . Like the loquacious politicians honoring Madiba today, there is extreme difficulty trying to end the wording of his epitaph. Witnessing Madiba’s funeral is like a biblical event. Like the Cecil B Demille biblical movies, I’m expecting some horses and chariots accompanied by bearded men in robes avoiding women weeping. But I discover at Madiba’s funeral a military tank holding his body and men and women wearing military uniforms. The sky splits open with fighter jets and powerful black women sing so hard as if to bring Madiba’s body back to earth. Custodians and celebrities wipe their eyes. No one can fully explain this ineffable life. This will take many years and federal holidays to come.