23 April 2006 at :00 am
I am known as the Archbishop of Melanesia and some people ask, "Where is Melanesia? I can't find it on my map."
Good question! Melanesia is not really a place. It is an ethnic category. Just as most of you here this evening are Caucasian, I am Melanesian.
And the Melanesian Islands stretch from Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands in the west to Fiji in the east. The ecclesiastical Province over which I am Primate falls right in the middle and comprises the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia - a Constitutional Monarchy and a French Colony. (In other words, a headache!)
Yes, you will find these Islands in the South-Western Pacific, but you might be like the young son of a friend of mine in England who, when he looked them up in his atlas, turned to his father and said,
"Daddy, do people really live on those dots?"
The Province has eight dioceses, six of them in the Solomon Islands, where Anglicans represent almost 50% of the population. And our Churches are full to overflowing. The Cathedral in Honiara seats approximately 3,000 people and there's seldom a seat available. The level of commitment is very high indeed.
A good part of the reason for that can be attributed to the mission policy of two Englishmen - George August Selwyn, first Bishop of
New Zealand, who eventually died in office as Bishop of Lichfield, and John Coleridge Patteson, who came from a village not far from Exeter, the first Bishop of Melanesia. Their policy was to recruit young people from the islands, bring them to faith in Christ and train them as evangelists of their own people so that the Gospel would be presented to Melanesians by Melanesians and the white missionaries would be there as doctors, nurses, teachers and back-up people, but not as prime evangelists.
Then, in 1925, a young ex-policeman named Ini Kopuria, founded the Melanesian Brotherhood, a Religious Order for men who would commit themselves to taking the gospel to the heathen. Today the Melanesian Brotherhood is the largest Religious Order in the Anglican Communion with some 350 professed Brothers and a similar number of Novices, with hundreds more wanting to join.
The Church of Melanesia has been richly blessed by people of great vision and great faith and the faith of several of them has led to their martyrdom, most notably the first Bishop, John Coleridge Patteson.
Nobody in a right state of mind would ever hope for martyrdom but it seems to be true that the blood of the martyrs, as the blood of our Lord himself, lays a strong foundation on which to build a mighty Church.
And tomorrow, 24th April, marks the third anniversary of the martyrdom of seven Melanesian Brothers.
On the remote southern coast of Guadalcanal, what we call the
"Weather Coast", was a psychotic "warlord" by the name of
Harold Keke. Somehow he had influenced his followers to the point where torture and death were commonplace. The hold he had over his people was demonic and extreme. He had taken one of our Melanesian Brothers who was on a peace mission to that area. After nothing had been heard of or from his Brother for a couple of months, the Assistant Head Brother took a part of five others to find out what had happened to him and to bring him back, hopefully alive but, if necessary, his dead body for decent burial.
Sadly, as soon as the six arrive, they were bound, tortured and killed on the 24th and 25th April 2003. Yes, and the body of the earlier Brother was later found. He too had been tortured and killed. Seven young men murdered! Seven Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood.
The impacts of their deaths was enormous. Probably more than any other single event, it brought an end to the fighting that had been waged on that island for the previous three years. It stunned the nation. It brought people to their knees. It brought peace to the nation.
May I honour them in this great Abbey by mentioning their names?
Brother Robin Lindsay, Brother Francis Tofi, Brother Tony Sirihi,
Brother Patteson Gatu, Brother Alfred Hill, Brother Ini Paratabatu and Brother Nathaniel Sado. May their souls rest in peace and rise in glory.
But it is impossible to talk about martyrs and martyrdom outside the context of the resurrection of Christ. The deaths of the Brothers have added a special dimension to the Melanesian Brotherhood to the Church of Melanesia and to the Church generally simply because of our confidence in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the "Opening of the Gate" through which we all have access to our God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
The deaths of the Brothers also raises questions about justice. Yes, those responsible for these and other horrendous crimes have been sent to prison for life, but that is not really the justice I speak about. We are all too quick to point the finger at others in our demands for justice. We are really selective when we seek justice. We create "them and us" situations, usually meaning that they are in need of justice but "we" are not because we already have it. We continue to shout for ethical government, moral leadership, systems devoid of corruption, as if these things are the be-all and end-all of justice and are lacking in others but not in ourselves.
But justice has to be a national vocation, indeed a global vocation. Justice has to be something that comes naturally to us all.
The death of Jesus was without justice. It seems that even Pilate recognized that. When he offered to release either Barabbas, the criminal, or Jesus the Son of God, I'm sure he expected the crowd to ask him to release Jesus. But they cried for Barabbas.
"So what do I do with Jesus?" he asks.
"Crucify him! Crucify him!" the crowd replies.
Justice has gone completely.
The events of that first Easter Day have been told and examined for two thousand years and still they stand up. Professor Thomas Arnold, a former Chair of History at Oxford, claimed that there was no historical fact of any kind that was so well attested to, as the resurrection of Jesus. But more than that, the reality of the resurrection has been experienced in the hearts of men and women throughout the ages ever since as a living reality making historical evidence unnecessary.
Earliest Christianity simply believed in resurrection, that is, the overcoming of death by the justice-bringing power of the creator God. And that's the point, isn't it? That the death and resurrection of Jesus redeems the world. Its meaning is for all people everywhere and indeed for the whole of creation. That it brings justice and freedom and new life to all.
So in our pursuit of justice, let us simply renew our trust in God and our faith in the resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ. Let us acknowledge that the resurrection of Christ was not an event for a select group of people or a cluster of nations, but rather an event of cosmic and universal significance which transformed and continues to transform and to renew us all.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia.