Reflecting on an eventful 2021 and looking forward to 2022, ACoM released a number of addresses over the Christmas period. Here are a few of them.
New Year’s Day reflection by Reverend Dr. Atkin Zaku
“How faithful have we been through 2021 with the responsibilities entrusted upon us on personal, family, community, nation, region and global bases?” – this was the question asked by Reverend Dr Atkin Zaku in his New Year’s Day sermon at the St Barnabas Provincial Cathedral.
Speaking to the hundreds who congregated at the cathedral to welcome in 2022 in church, Reverend Dr Zaku asked the people celebrating the New Year, to reflect on the doings of 2021 and their aspirations for 2022.
Reverend Dr Atkin Zaku preached: “Whatever responsibilities we were entrusted with in 2021, these were all given responsibilities entrusted to us by none other than the Name Jesus. So have we done them with the authentic power and authority under the Name Jesus?
“The sin of corruption does not involve national issues alone, that involves what we normally termed as millions or thousands or hundreds of dollars or ill-decisions of high levels. The sin of corruption involves as little as 10cents within our own families. The little decisions we make in the affairs within our communities that interferes and denies improvement and progress of community life socially, religiously and economically.”
Reverend Dr Zaku also asked “With these responsibilities, have we held them with total love, mercy and grace? If we have done so, we would be a family and community of social, political and economic abusive-free. We would be a family and community of hatred-free. We would be a family and community of discrimination-free. We would be a family and community of acceptance and toleration of each other,” he said.
“Reflecting on the past year we should be able to see our failures and weaknesses and make new resolutions for 2022. But we cannot do these if we forget the Name Jesus. Today we are called to a New Year resolution, to seriously consider and reflect on the Name Jesus with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our bodies. There is no half-truth in the Name Jesus. There is no half-power in the Name Jesus. There is no half-life in the Name Jesus and there is no half-love in the Name of Jesus. Total life, love, power and truth is found and can only be found and experienced in the Name Jesus,” he said.
“This comes to us with God’s blessings – a promise in return for our pronouncement of his Name. Only then as God commanded Moses to bless the people, as read in the book of Numbers 6:22-27, can also be applicable to us.
“That blessing says: ‘May the Lord bless you and take care of you. May the Lord be kind and be gracious to you. May the Lord look on you with favour and give his peace’, Reverend Dr Zaku concluded.
This was the message the Anglican Church of Melanesia’s Archbishop Leonard Dawea preached on Sunday as the church commemorated the first Sunday of Advent.
Members of the ACoM Council of Bishops were assigned to different parishes in Honiara with one message – to condemn all evil activities that happened on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week and to call for repentance and respect for all people.
Archbishop of the Church of Melanesia, Leonard Dawea, told the congregation at Saint Barnabas Cathedral that he could not believe how humanity in a so-called happy isles or Christian country has gone to such an extent.
“How Christians were able to put behind them the love of God and choose to walk in darkness.
“God who creates us all, regardless of (who) we are, hates to see his creation destroying each other.
“His heart bleeds for those who have been left homeless, who in the blinking of an eye lost everything they had,” Archbishop Dawea said.
He went on to say, what happened since Wednesday last week tested our true nature as Christians and Disciples of Christ.
“…unfortunately, we have failed yet again as a Christian nation, a happy isles.
“A lot of people, good Christian people found themselves caught in these unchristian actions and behaviours,” he said. “Christianity is not spoken, it is a lived reality; not theoretical, it is practicality,” he said.
Therefore, he urged Christians not to be misled by the pleasures and excitements of this world. It is so sad that a lot of Christians became too occupied with greed and hatred and cannot resist the temptation to looting those who are already victims.
“We have not been good neighbours, we have all acted as the priest and Levite who walk by the man on the road. We have not been the Good Samaritan,” Archbishop Dawea said.
He said the unfortunate events last week indicated that to some Christians, God is a temporary entity for good days.
Archbishop Leonard then challenged the church to ditch all ungodly behaviours, not just of the rioting and looting but in all areas of life.
“The Advent of Christ should open our horizons to see and value people as they are regardless of colour, language, race, ethnicity, social standing, gender and religiosity.
“It is most clear that we are all God’s handmade, underneath the physical differences lies the red blood of commonality.
“It is what speaks to each other of our common value, not only as Christians, but as people, human beings,” Archbishop Dawea said.
He said now is the time to be neighbours to the victims of fire, rioting and looting.
“We can pray, but our prayers need to be accompanied by genuine actions,” concluded the Archbishop.
Prayer for our Nation Solomon Islands O eternal God, bless Solomon Islands, guide our rulers, guard our people and give us peace. Grant to all our leaders a desire to serve and lead our country in ways of justice and peace. Help us to love and serve one another and unite us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
STATEMENT FROM THE OFFICE OF THE ARCHBISHOP OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF MELANESIA, THE MOST REV. LEONARD DAWEA.
The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM), the Most Revd Leonard Dawea, is calling on all members of the ACoM in Honiara and throughout the country to refrain from participating in illegal activities including the wanton destruction of property and looting of businesses.
The Archbishop is very concerned about the destruction of both private and public properties as witnessed last week and pleads with ACoM members, in particular our youths, to respect one another and remain at home in this very volatile situation.
He also calls on all Church and Community leaders in and around Honiara to advise your youths against these activities.
Involving in violence can only hurt ourselves as we are now experiencing with the sudden lock down of Honiara which has now resulted in many struggling to survive.
The Archbishop acknowledges that people may be frustrated by what is happening in our country regarding our political leadership, but there are more peaceful means of resolving these than resorting to violence.
At the same time the Archbishop is calling on the political leadership of this country to listen to our people’s concerns and to appropriately address them.
At this year’s AGM and Festival Day, Revd Richard Carter, the Archbishop of Melanesia’s UK Commissary, vicar at St Martin in the Fields, London, and former Melanesian Brother was asked to speak about Patteson’s Life and Legacy –
The first Anglican missionaries to Melanesia were men and women with whom one could feel proud to be associated. The word missionary today often conjures many negative associations in the western world, men and women who crossed continents and oceans in the name of God and left behind the very conditions in which material interest, colonialism, exploitation, and white superiority could flourish. Yet in the Solomon Islands the islanders themselves still talk with love and pride about their early missionaries who established a model of sacrificial service which still inspires the young and old. Bishop George Augustus Selwyn who became the first Bishop of New Zealand in 1841 believed there should be “an episcopate of love as well as authority.”
“Missionaries must be ready at a moment to put their lives in their hands and to go out and preach the gospel to others with no weapon but prayer and with no refuge but in God.
A student at Oxford John Coleridge Patteson, from Feniton, near Ottery St. Mary in Devon, heard Bishop Selwyn speak and his message inspired him. Patteson had not been a particularly outstanding student at either Eton or Oxford and in fact, apart from moderate success at cricket, his youth seemed quite unexceptional. Once Patteson joined the Melanesian Mission as a young priest his gifts were seen to flourish. He was noted for his sailor’s gift for enduring hardship, his Christian gift for deep friendship and his compassion and a linguist’s gift for being able to master many different languages of the Pacific. We sense a man who had become animated and fully alive in this mission.
What was remarkable about his ministry, and which emerges in all his writings, is the quality of his connection with the people of Melanesia and the genuine trust and respect he gave to them: he developed a relationship with the indigenous people that challenged the whole foundation of colonial prejudice.
I have for many years thought that we seek in our mission a great deal too much to make English Christians of our converts. We consciously and unanimously assume English Christianity to be necessary. We seem to denationalise these races as far as I can see; whereas we ought to change as little as possible; only what is incompatible with the simplest form of teaching and practice… Christianity is the religion for humanity at large. It takes in all shades and characters of race.
The secret of these islands is to live as equals. Let them know that you are divided from them but united in Christ’s love. I do not want to make English Christians but Melanesian Christians dressed in the rich warm colour of their own native skin.
Patteson also began to question the whole position of the European missionary in relation to potential converts.
The pride of race which prompts a white man to regard Melanesians as inferior to himself, is strongly ingrained in most men’s minds, and must be wholly eradicated before they will ever win the hearts, and thus the souls of the people.
His sermons express this inclusiveness: a God who loves without prejudice irrespective of colour, tribe or creed, a God whose love knows no boundary:
And this love (of God) once generated in the heart of man , must need pass on to his brethren; that principle of life must needs grow and expand with its own inherent energy… No artificial or accidental circumstances can confine it, it recognises no human ideas of nationality or place but embraces like the dome of heaven all the works of God. And love is the animating principle of all.
Patteson believed passionately that the initiative for mission should come from the Melanesians themselves and committed himself to their preparation and training, which must involve equality and mutual respect. Patteson was convinced that Melanesians could not only become priests but better priests than many of their European counterparts:
I solve the difficulty in Melanesian work by saying ‘Use Melanesians.’ I tell people plainly: ‘I don’t want white men!’ I have no intention of taking any more (clergy) from England, Australia or New Zealand. I sum it up thus: They cost about ten times as much as Melanesians (literally) and but a very small portion do the work as well.
While Patteson may question the way in which the Christian faith is expressed, never does he doubt the relevance of the Christian message itself. In all of his letters there is a constant longing that Melanesians may know Christ and experience God’s promises. Charles Fox notes “the spirit of prayer” and “thanksgiving” which pervades all his writings. He is rigorous in his faith too, fearing sentimental attachment which would patronise the converts and overlook the need for “true religion, sound learning and useful industry.” Neither does he glamorise Melanesian culture or overlook the reality of blood feuds, tribal wars, head-hunting, and pagan practices: he remains totally committed to the mission to bring the Gospel of Christ
What becomes increasingly obvious however is how personally and intimately he becomes involved in and respects the lives of those he seeks to convert and teach: his missionary methodology is the result of that deep care. For example in 1863 while he was training Melanesians at St. Andrew’s Kohimarama, New Zealand, there was an outbreak of dysentery which took the life of six Melanesian students and made twenty others seriously ill.
Even harder for Patteson to accept was the death of two of his most devoted Norfolk Island assistants in 1864, when they were fatally wounded in an arrow attack while returning with Patteson from the shore to the ship in Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz.
It was relationships of genuine care and concern which had the power to convert. George Sarawia, who was to be the first Melanesian priest to be ordained, describing Patteson and the missionary example, wrote in his autobiography:
This is what they did for the sick. They were not ashamed to carry the bucket of waste matter and take it to the sea, they washed out the bucket and brought it back into the sick room. Then I thought they were doing what the Bishop had taught us in the school, that we should love one another and look after each other with love, without despising anyone, we should help the weak. All this they did to those who were sick. Then I thought it was true, if anyone taught…the things that Jesus did he must follow it himself and humble himself.
Patteson’s own death became a parable for the people of Melanesia, perhaps even more powerful after his death than before it. Before he died there is the sense of premonition of the event to come. On board the mission ship the Southern Cross he is said to have been teaching about the death of St. Stephen and to have said: “This might happen to any of us, to you or to me. It might happen today.” They reached the island of Nakapu near the Reef Islands in Temotu where Patteson requested to go ashore. It was 20th September 1871.Four men rowed him ashore but the tide was too low for them to cross the reef in the boat so the Bishop got into a canoe and went on without them although they tried to persuade him against this. He lay down to rest in the canoe house almost like sacrificial offering. While he was lying there he was beaten to death with a club used for making bark cloth. His body was wrapped in a mat and put into a canoe and across his breast had been laid a palm branch with five knots in the leaves which led to the belief that his death was carried out in vengeance for five native men that the ‘black-birder’ slave traders had carried away from the island. Indeed in accounts we are told that Patteson’s body received five wounds, like the wounds of Christ, and only his face remained untouched. It was also told that after he died darkness covered the islands and people went about with torches even at noon.
Some men then attacked the four others in the boat who were anxiously waiting for Patteson just beyond the reef: Joseph Atkin was hit by an arrow in his left shoulder, John Ngongono one in his right, Stephen Taroaniara had six arrows in him. Joseph Atkin reaching the Southern Cross immediately requested “I am going back for the Bishop who will come with me?” Then Joe Wate a boy of fifteen stepped up and said “Inau” (I), and also Charles Sapi, another fifteen year old. They discovered the body of the Bishop floating in the canoe, one of the boys crying out “those are the bishop’s shoes.” The body of John Coleridge Patteson was buried at sea. Atkin wrote:
“It would only be selfish to wish him back. He has gone to his rest, dying as he lived, in his Master’s service. It seems a shocking way to die; but I can say from experience that it is far more to hear of than to suffer. In whatever way so peaceful a `life as his is ended, his end is peace. There was no sign of fear or pain on his face-just the look he used to have when asleep, patient and a little wearied. What a stroke his death will be to hundreds! What the mission will do without him, God only knows Who has taken him away. His ways are not our ways.”
Patteson’s followers we are told by Yonge “had deeply to drink of the cup of agony” Atkin was to die on the 27th from tetanus “his whole nervous system being jerked and strained to pieces” and his last words “I want nothing but to die.” Stephen lingered on in agony with an arrow wound in his lung, dying from tetanus on 29th of September. Bishop Patteson was 44 years of age, Atkin was 29, and Stephen about 25.
It was the news of the martyrdom of Bishop Patteson which stirred the British Government into passing laws to control the labour trade for the Queensland and Fijian plantations in the South Pacific. Professor Max Muller predicted in a letter to The Times in 1872: “In the distant future, depend upon it, the name of Patteson will live in every cottage, in every school and Church of Melanesia, not as the name of a fabulous saint or martyr, but as the never to be forgotten name of a good, a brave, a God-fearing and God-loving man.” This was not to prove an exaggeration, rather Muller had underestimated the legacy of his friend. Today not only do hundreds of Melanesians name their children after him but also their churches. Thousands attend his feast day and by the people he is remembered as both saint and martyr. The cross in Nukapu which marks the place where he was killed reads “His life was taken by those for whom he would gladly have given it.”
As I re-read the accounts of this story I am struck by two things. Firstly, how prophetic Patteson was to predict the indigenous growth of the church and secondly how closely the shape of this story of these missionaries’ deaths is to be repeated one hundred and fifty years later, this time by a group of indigenous missionary Brothers. Their death will also be an offering: there will be first the death of one and then the still more agonising death of those who risk their lives for him. There will be sacrificial courage, and a tragic and seemingly futile loss of innocent lives. It will seem that prayer has failed, and even God abandoned them. Their deaths will also rock the church and the nation, and shock all with the sacrilegious brutality of the murder of men of peace. Their deaths will seem to defeat everything they have strived for- and yet these men will also become catalysts for peace and symbols of hope. “God’s ways are not our ways” Is it simply the way we tell the story that gives it meaning and creates its shape? Or can we see something more? That here are the marks of the incarnation, and that the shape is the shape of the Gospel -Christ, his love, his death and resurrection, revealed in our own lives?
Revd Richard Carter
 Sermon of George Augustus Selwyn delivered at University of Cambridge 1854
 Charlotte Yonge 1874 Life of John Coleridge Patteson. Vol.2. London. Macmillan. 164-167
MMUK Trustee, Revd Martin Cox, reflects on the charity’s AGM and Patteson Festival Day at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 18 September.
All the ‘clicks’ of the liturgical Rubik’s cube had been made and there was full alignment around the sides of the cube. This was through the hard work and negotiating skills of Katie Drew, Executive Officer of MMUK. So it was that MMUK trustees’ past and present gathered with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife and party, the Diocesan Bishop of Exeter, the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, a researcher from the University of Southampton along with supporters of MMUK for this year’s Festival and AGM on a warm day in September in Exeter Cathedral.
There was a significant poignancy to this year’s event as we gathered to mark the 150th commemoration of the death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson on 20 September 1871 in the very same Cathedral where he had been ordained Deacon and Priest. The liturgical colour was red; the side of the Rubik’s cube was complete.
It was wonderful to gather together in person with several hundred others for the Festival Eucharist. The Book of the Gospels was processed in on a processional canoe. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached from the Martyrs Pulpit and spoke movingly of Patteson as a red and white martyr. Bishop Robert presided and beautifully intoned the Eucharistic prayer. Bishop Willie led the prayers of intercession in the way that only Bishop Willie can! We were reminded of the faithfulness of God and the call upon us all to be faithful. A presentation was made by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral of a copy of Bishop Patteson’s letter asking for more resources.
After our pre-booked packed lunch and conversations, another side of the Rubik’s cube where the clicks had led to perfect alignment, we held our Festival and AGM. Revd Richard Carter and Bishop Willie Pwa’isiho both spoke movingly of Bishop Patteson’s legacy of a spirit of service and mission, of equality of relationships in and through Christ, of the call to live simply and close to God and one another, of the importance of education and a holistic approach to mission, of the role of women who wrapped Bishop Patteson’s body following his death before he was buried at sea so his love for the people could be washed upon the shores of the islands. Bishop Willie ended by leading us in the Lord’s Prayer in Pidgin English.
We moved from looking back to the past to thinking about the present. Marie Schlenker from the University of Southampton and Kate Pwa’isiho spoke of Faith and Science in the Care of Creation. Their equally moving presentation drew attention to the impact of climate change on rising sea levels and the way of life for many. Marie spoke of the climate change observatories to collect much needed data. Kate spoke of the immediate impact on Fanalei Island. Images of coral bleaching and sand dunes in the church made a powerful impression on those gathered together. We were left with the challenge to reflect on our own lives as the decisions we take do affect the lives of others. We know this instinctively, but Marie and Kate highlighted the challenge powerfully.
Before he departed, Archbishop Justin responded to the presentations. His Grace spoke of the capacity of the Anglican Communion to tell the story of climate change, of how the Melanesian church is engaged in holistic mission and speaks the voice of the Spirit, of how peace and reconciliation are vital to create the space to engage with climate change issues: “If it’s not dealt with for everyone, it’s not dealt with for anyone.” Archbishop Justin concluded his remarks by reflecting to us that Bishop Patteson set an example for us all, commenting that when we are at war with the world we are war with God.
Following the departure of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his party the Festival heard a recorded message from the Archbishop of Melanesia. Archbishop Leonard spoke of how Bishop Patteson was truly Melanesian oriented and how Melanesians claim him as their own for ever. Bishop Mark Rylands, Chairman of MMUK interviewed Revd Brian Macdonald-Milne about his book, ‘Seeking Peace in the Pacific’. Brian reminded us of how God’s grace transforms human failure and failings. The Annual General Meeting of MMUK followed with a presentation to Marie in token of her work as an intern over the last year the presentation of the accounts by Steve Scoffield, Honorary Treasurer of MMUK who spoke of the need for wise decision making and a trust in God’s faithfulness going forward. Following the re-election of three trustees’, Bishop Mark concluded the AGM by assuring us of God’s blessing.
It was a real joy and privilege to attend the Eucharist and to be present for this year’s in-person Festival and AGM. Those I spoke to during the day echoed these sentiments and were grateful for the way in which the day had been organised. As I left the Cathedral as one of the re-elected trustees’ I was conscious that the pieces of the liturgical Rubik’s cube were now being scrambled again having been in alignment for our day together. It was ever thus. However, as a result of this year’s Festival and AGM, the occasion, the location, the participants, the presentations and the way in which the sides of our Rubik’s cube had been aligned for the moment, I was also conscious that MMUK and our support for the mission of the Anglican Church of Melanesia had somehow come of age.
Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe. By your word the evening comes, by your power the day dawns. You are the Lord of the tides and season. You have set the stars in the sky. You have placed a limit on the sea. In your love you created all things. By your love all has been redeemed. Through your love all creation is sustained. Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe.
(Island of Light: An Illustrated Collection of Prayers by David Adam, SPCK 2002)
Revd Martin Cox, Diocese of Manchester, MMUK Trustee
Greetings and blessings of 2021 to you all, friends of the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM). Despites the persisting gloom of the global pandemic, may you continue to undertake your mandates under the protecting hands of our Almighty God.
May I render on behalf of ACoM immense gratitude and acknowledgement to you for all your support in 2020. Though our historical relationship underscores reciprocity in spiritual and physical support, it is obvious that ACoM, in notable degree, weighs heavier as recipient of practical support from you. That has been the trend over the many years the relationship has existed up until 2020; a year globally acknowledged as difficult. ACoM gives thanks and praise to God for the wisdom to give birth to such a relationship and those who have made it workable and beneficial on both ends over the years up to the present. You are true friends and mission partners for the glory of God and his word of saving grace.
During this dark spell over the global community, as true friends and partners, we offer and welcome that spiritual embrace through prayers for each other. Truly we have been denied that physical visitation and presence, but nothing surpasses the prayers and thoughts genuine friends and partners give each other even from distance. ACoM holds you and the communion family unceasingly in prayers.
Let me just provide you with some updates on the upcoming events of ACoM. This month, the Electoral Board will assemble at Hautabu to elect a new bishop for the Diocese of Hanuatoó. On 28th February, we will have the consecration and installation of the Rev. Benedict Loe as the second Bishop of the Diocese of Guadalcanal. The consecration and installation of the new Bishop of Hanuatoó takes place on 21st March at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Kirakira. It is important to have the new bishops installed early to allow progress in their respective dioceses. Ideally, the first three months of this year see these major events. We will then wrap up this year with the General Synod in November.
In brief, let me inform you of certain ACoM’s ongoing projects. The Southern Cross has been agreed by both the Council of Bishops and Management Board to go on tender. While some ACoM members have raised concerns of deep affection and connection to it, the need for a bigger boat is obvious considering the unpredictable weather patterns emanating from the climate change. The proposed new Provincial office complex in Honiara has not started yet. A small committee composed of staff members was appointed to oversee this project. They are putting together a concept design and site clearing plans before actual work can begin, hopefully this year. Another huge undertaking is the JCP University project which has been around in the Church for almost two decades. Currently there is obvious enthusiasm to push it forward with the involvement of some prominent laities and academics of our Church. Aside from these, there are ongoing projects in the Board of Mission and Education departments.
On COVID 19 situation, both Solomon Islands and Vanuatu lost their COVID-19-free statues late last year. Following the repatriation of our citizens abroad, Solomon Islands in a very relatively short space of time recorded seventeen cases. Vanuatu still record a smaller number in comparison to Solomon Islands. Both Countries are managing well to contain the cases within the quarantine centers. According to the Prime Minister’s nationwide address this week, out of the seventeen, only two still remain positive in Solomon Islands. The two are among the footballers who returned from England last year. While we all acknowledge that it still far from over, life in the two countries is fairly normal despites the lingering fear and cautiousness.
We will continue to uphold each other in prayers, knowing that when the world seemingly fails us, God remains truthful to his promises to be with us. He comes to us on Christmas in the thickness of not just the bleak winter, but also the darkness of the COVID -19. Against that backdrop, he came and lived among us; he is Emmanuel. He is with us, not just literally with us, but supporting us through all manner of situations. As always, please continue to uphold the events and projects of ACoM in your prayers.
God bless our friendship and partnership always.
The Most Rev Leonard Dawea, Archbishop of Melanesia
As UK Companions to the Melanesian Brotherhood were unable to gather for this year’s St Simon and St Jude services due to COVID-19, UK South West Companions organised an online service and meeting on 28th October. Seventeen Companions from across the UK were joined by Revd Br Nelson, MBH, who is currently studying in Fiji. During the service, led by Ven John Rawlings, the Lord is My Shepherd was sung by the congregation at Tabalia.
At the meeting Companions shared news from their regions and from the Brotherhood, and watched the Address given by the Archbishop of Melanesia, the Most Revd Leonard Dawea.
Watch these films and revisit the slide content shared during the online service and meeting;
At Tabalia, the Headquarters of the Brotherhood, 41 Novices were admitted as Brothers, 12 Brothers renewed their vows, and 8 were released.
The Melanesian Brotherhood (MBH) was formed by Ini Kopuria, a policeman from Maravovo village, Guadalcanal in 1925. Brothers take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for three years, which can be renewed. They train for four years as Novices and normally make their vows to become Brothers at the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.
Today, the work of the Brotherhood has reached out to other countries beyond Solomon Islands, including Vanuatu, the Philippines, Australia and Canada. Companions around the world support the Brotherhood through prayer and financial support. For more information on becoming a Companion, contact MMUK.
SERMON DELIVERED ON EASTER SUNDAY APRIL 12TH, 2020
John 20: 1-18 – “New life begins while it was still dark”
Alleluia, the Lord is risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
May I warmly welcome you all again to this Easter service. I am indeed delighted to welcome, on your behalf, the Head of State, the Governor General of Solomon Islands, the Rt. Rev. Sir David Vunagi and Madam Mary who have come to join us for this Easter Service. I further extend our welcome to those who are joining in from their homes or other places throughout our country, Solomon Islands. Easter is a great day; it is the day of the resurrection of our Lord; the day we are given hope and assurance for our own resurrection and new life.
Secondly, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the leaders of our nation, Solomon Islands, the Governor General, the Prime Minister and our national leaders for their very important decision for our Churches to continue their services, despite the enormous fear we all have of the corona virus. We pray that God will bless our nation through that State decision.
The story of the resurrection of our Lord is a story of renewal, transformation of life, new light and is a journey of faith for nations, communities, families and individuals. We pray that it will be the story of our nation as we, as a nation continue to live with the fear of the Covid-19. Fear that was increased by Cyclone Harold last week, which led to the tragic and painful death of 27 beloved lives in the sea on 3rd April. But also fear of the many untold painful stories of communities, families and individuals. We pray that the new light of Christ’s resurrection will renew and transform those fears and take us on a new journey of life.
Allow me to take you through the story of the resurrection from when darkness and fear reached its highest climax. The story of the resurrection began on Good Friday when human beings thought that they have successfully locked Jesus down. Let us make justification for this with the words of scripture. The last word of Jesus on the cross ‘Father into your hands, I place my spirit’, affirms it. For us others (Clergies or catechists) to do it for us, but Christ did it for himself before bending down in death. What happens……, explain. It is common knowledge that resurrection is God’s activity; no dead body can raise itself.
The story of the resurrection began very early on the first day of the week, Sunday, ‘when it was still dark’. The moment of time carries John’s contrasting theme of darkness and light or vice versa. The statement ‘it was still dark’ bear connotation on what happened on Good Friday. There was still confusion, fear, doubt, frustration, anger, darkness still cast over the lives his followers and those who became his believers. But in the midst of all that, a new story has begun, though it is still concealed by human lives, it has actually begun.
The statement ‘when it was still dark’ sets a strong back for God whose power destroyed sin and death. He raised his Son to new life by bursting from the dark tomb of death. Being filled with the power of the new life breathed in him by his Father, Jesus destroys our fears, doubts, confusion and darkness. He breaths upon us his breathe of new life, (peace be with you) he destroys our darkness forever, clears our doubts and reorder and recreates our confused order of life once and for all.
The darkness John meant, therefore, was not just the physical darkness before sunrise, but the spiritual darkness, we encounter every day through the different situations of life at all levels.
The first resurrection morning looked very bleak for Mary Magdalene. She had been with Jesus almost from the beginning of his ministry. She had seen lives changed, people healed, and eyes opened. But on Good Friday, just a few days before, Jesus was crucified. Nails had been driven into his hands and feet. A sword had pierced his side. Mary stood at the foot of the cross hopeless and helpless as her Saviour dies slowly in agony, but with love. She was heartbroken to see in the most-cruel way the very person who had given her hope, wholeness and new life dying.
In the resurrection morning, Mary came to the tomb with heart still heavy, ‘it was still dark for her. But there is more, her wholeness has fallen into pieces again. She didn’t have a life she wanted to go back to; she still longs to experience the goodness of Christ. Sadness, disappointment, and emptiness consumed her. Her soul languished in spiritual darkness. We all feel that way; we all have days where our hopes, faith and wholeness fall in shambles around our feet. We all have failed expectations, deep moments of fear (now the Covid-19), when our lives were going so well and suddenly faces a darkness, with uncertain ending.
Mary was consumed by that seemingly endless darkness, not realising that the story has changed. A new light that shines forever is illuming over the horizon. A new life that knows no end has been won for her. The way for her to experience Jesus forever has been made possible. The power of sin and death has been destroyed completely.
My sisters and brothers it is easy to believe when everything is all sunlight and happiness. Our belief changes very quickly when it is dark and is still dark. It is easy to believe that God is for us when all about life goes well, but we naturally incline to feel rejected, guilty, or abandoned. Anyone can walk in the sunshine; but only few faithful ones can walk in the dark. Life is not just all sunshine; sunshine with no dark clouds to make rain produces a desert, not a garden. In other words, there is no glory without suffering.
Because the resurrection of Jesus took place when it was still dark, all four gospels record it differently. Even the synoptic gospels have variable differences in their records. All were giving us evidences from the human point of view, but the resurrection of Jesus is done by God alone, out of human sight. We can only see, witness and experience the traces (clothes, angelic announcement, and empty tomb). It is exactly the way we respond to the belief and experiences of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is both for corporate and personal lives. On the personal level, it can disfigure (into a gardener), it can figure differently.
The empty tomb, (they have taken….), she came back the second, stood crying at the tomb, mistaken Jesus for a gardener are all reference points of personal incomplete story of a complete story. It is the same us; sometimes the complete story of the resurrection becomes incomplete through the lanes of our lives.
In June 18, 1815, during the battle of Waterloo, the British depended on a system signals (called semaphore) to convey the latest news from the battlefield. One of these signal stations was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral. Late on 18th it flashed the signal: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N—DE-F-E-A-T-E-D- -.” At that precise moment a cloud of fog rolled in and blocked out the signal. The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city. The whole countryside was sad and gloomy when they heard their country had lost the war. But just suddenly the fog lifted, and the remainder of the message could then be read. It consisted of four words, not two. The complete message was: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N- – -DE-F-E-A- T-E-D- – -T-H-E- – -E-N- E-M-Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy; defeat was turned into victory!
This is exactly what happened to Mary that first resurrection morning – all was not as expected, but the fog of Good Friday lifted when Jesus called her by name. Sorrow was turned into joy, defeat turned into victory, darkness was overcoming by light. Mary had a new lease on life. It is the same for us when we stumble through periods of spiritual darkness. Jesus is there, whether we can see him or not. God’s plan for our lives is still moves forward, even when we cannot see a way forward, we need to have faith.
Today, if you are in one of those spiritually dark places (and we all are at one time or another), I want you to know there is hope; remember the first verse of our text today…. “While it was still dark, Jesus had already risen”. He walks with us through our faith.
Jesus was there with Mary in the darkness on that first resurrection morning. The tomb was empty because Jesus is with us, with our nation, our communities and families in this uncertain and fearful time of Covid-19. The story of fear of the Covid-19, though seems to surpass the story of the resurrection, it is only a dark overcast. The complete story is that Jesus calls us name, calls Solomon Islands by name; our part is to recognise his voice. We pray that as he calls us by names, call Solomon Islands by name, we shall turn in repentance and humility.
St. John, the writer of our text this morning knew this, so he gave us these words of hope at the very beginning of his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never put it out!” (John 1:5). The Lord has risen!
The Lord has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Most Revd Leonard Dawea
Archbishop of Melanesia
Bishop of Central Melanesia
Having entered another year, we started going through the liturgical seasons of our Christian calendar. We have now entered the season of Lent; the forty days preceding Easter. Lent is observed with fasting, almsgiving, acts of penance and other forms of disciplined spiritual devotion. It naturally inclined us to reduce in remorse, reflections and prayers for the frailties of our life that estranges us from God. In the Church, the absence of joyful music, alleluias, and the omission of the Gloria in excelsis featured the solemnity and seriousness of the penitential reduction. Relatively, the surrendering of habitual lifestyles during Lent appropriately aligns with this natural impetus on individual lives.
Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness after his baptism has been observed throughout the Church as the prime emphasis of Lent. John’s baptism is of repentance of sins, which disqualified Jesus, but he volunteered to undergo the baptism of John for the sake of our sins. Though, it was an entire contradiction given the sinless nature of Jesus Christ, he did so for our sake. Taking this background into consideration, it is appropriate that we begin each Lenten season with the imposing of ashes crosses on our foreheads. This reminds us of the spiritual baptism of repentance we all go through in Lent as we look towards the resurrection of Jesus where we shall all receive spiritual rebirth.
I have decided to make this Lenten reflection on the scene of Jesus’ activities; the wilderness. It was where he fasted, encountered temptations while praying and being alone with God. It is why this brief reflection is entitled, ‘The Wilderness of Lent’.
Geographical wilderness is not common in our part of the world; hence it needs some outset explanation. What is wilderness? Wilderness is basically land that is mostly wild and rarely inhabited or unfit for permanent human settlement. In the Near East it is characteristically dry, rough, uneven, and desolate and largely intertwined with dry watercourses. But it is not altogether dry or barren, during wet rainy season, it provides seasonal pastures for flocks.
In the Bible there are several wilderness lands identified by name and related to cities, persons and events. Hagar wandered in the land of Beersheba – Genesis 21: 14. The Israelites went through several wilderness lands on their way to the Promised Land. David escaping Saul hid in three wilderness lands, Ziph (1 Sam. 23: 14-15), in the wilderness of Moan (vv. 24-25) and in the wilderness of En-gedi (24: 1). And in the NT Gospels, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judea after his baptism (Is. 40:3; Matt. 3: 1-3; Mark 1: 2-4; Lk. 3: 1-6; John 1: 23).
The ambiguity of the wilderness
Taking the above texts into consideration, we come to terms with why the wilderness becomes a prime theme occupying both testaments of the Bible. It is important to note that while the wilderness is a dry, barren, rough, dusty land etc.., it also provides pastures for animals. This geographical scenario provides the background context of the ambiguity of the wilderness. It was there that Hagar and her son Ishmael were cast out and abandoned, possibly to die (Gen. 16. 1-16); but it was also exactly where they God met and saved them (Gen. 16: 17-20).
In the wilderness the people of Israel found both refuge and protection from the Egyptians (Ex. 16: 1ff). They went through about nine wilderness lands before they finally entered the Promised Land, where they achieved nationhood. They feared they could die of hunger in the wilderness (Ex.16:3), but right there God fed them with manner from heaven. The wilderness is both great and terrible (Deut. 1:19). But though terrible, lifeless, empty, mountainous and dusty, the wilderness is where God was expected to return (Is. 40:3). It remains in the Bible a place of ambiguity; holding both danger and salvation.
The wilderness of Lent
The season of Lent in various respects is like a wilderness. Though, it might impact natural inclination on Christians, it is a spiritually rich season, which elevates us towards God. Though Lent may feel as a threat to our life because we don’t usually want to expose the deep secrets of our lives, even in confession, it is our prerequisite for salvation. In being reduced to humility and remorse, Lent helps us to let go of the impasses of life that continually holds us captive. We are challenged to be courageous in facing our own vulnerabilities that we normally shy away from. It invites us to inward discovering of ourselves against the goodness and holiness of God. It calls us to learn about ourselves; who God calls us to be and who we want to be through our response.
Since Lent is like the wilderness, we encounter discomforts when we face the realities of the humdrumness of our lives. This is the truth about Lent. We discover no easy way to deal with the shortfalls of our lives; no shortcut to deal with ourselves in Lent. The best way is to be honest in repentance before God. The first truth Jesus told Nicodemus is that, ‘no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (John 3: 3). There is absolutely no other way around it, hard as it may be, it is the way to receive God’s grace and mercy. We are reminded as Christians by the ashes we receive each Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In doing that, we explore and discover our own lives. In that discovery, we find the spaciousness of God’s grace and love; our discovery therefore, does stop in terror, but in hope for the very salvation we crave.
Lent has often been taken as a time to escape or avoid unwanted habits for 40 days. Nothing is against this tradition, but if we are not careful, it can turn into a ‘spiritual disaster’. Some people experience greater adverse and harm from what they gave up than the good it impacts. What we do in Lent is far less important than who we become. Our Lenten emphasis should not be too much on what we surrender, but who are we becoming. We leave behind our old landscapes; our patterns and attitudes of life as we move with Christ towards Calvary.
In that spiritual movement, we lift our eyes upwards in faith beyond our humdrum lives and experiences to God, our loving Father who awaits to restore us to himself in a new way of relationship. It is the relationship that Jesus have with his father that helped him overcame the three most hazardous temptations enticingly posed to him by Satan to derail him. It is the new relationship which Jesus engraved on us Christian to live by.
Best wishes for a deep and meaningful reflection, meditation and prayers as emulate Jesus on his wilderness journey of the Cross. May we, during this Lent rise or descend to the level Christ sets for us as we wait to meet him anew in the resurrection morning.
In recent weeks, the world was gripped by the impact of the corona virus in different countries including our own country, Solomon Islands. Last week, the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic. Governments around the world are taking various measures to prevent the entry and spread of the virus in their respective countries.
In our beloved Solomon Islands, the relevant government authorities through the Corona Virus Steering Committee have developed measures not only to prevent the entry of the virus into our country but also to prevent the spread of the sickness if it does get onto our shores. For example it issued its third Travel Advisory on the 13 March 2020. The Church appeals to its members and all citizens of our country to strictly comply with measures outlined in the travel advisory.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has issued a number of brochures and posters which explains in simple terms what we should do to protect ourselves, our families and communities. These includes guidelines on personal hygiene which we must practice in our homes, workplaces and in Church and community gatherings. We must not wait for a positive case of the virus to be reported before we start practicing these healthy habits.
Living with our extended families even in Honiara and other urban centres provides an environment for the easy spread of the virus. It might helpful to encourage relatives living with working families in Honiara to consider returning to our home villages if there are no urgent reasons to be in Honiara. Having a smaller number of people living in a home should help families in Honiara practice more effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Church also encourages its members to avoid any unnecessary travel overseas. And if the virus does enter the country, members are kindly asked to reconsider plans to hold large gatherings and celebrations. In Honiara, Church members are kindly requested to refrain from visiting public places and gathering unless absolutely necessary. We further encouraged members to avoid travelling from one house to another unless the visit is necessary.
The ACoM will be issuing further guidelines to our parishes as what we should or should not do as far as our public worship is concerned. Members are kindly requested to show understanding should some changes be made to our worship and liturgical practices. For now I call on all Christians in Honiara to steadfastly hold our beloved country in prayer; for the victims of the virus, the scientists researching for possible cure and for cessation of the spread of the virus.
Finally, I would like to once again appeal to all ACOM members, all Christian people and friends to support the efforts of the government authorities and other stakeholders by complying with instructions and follow public health messages issued to date. I understand that as Christians we have faith, I am asking us all to express our faith by taking full responsibility to work together with the Government, not only for our personal health but also for our families, communities and our nation of Solomon Islands.