John Coleridge Patteson
Bishop of Melanesia, and his Companions, Martyrs, 1871
September 20, 2007
Eight time zones east of here is the birthplace of John Coleridge Patteson; he was born in London on the 1st of April, 1827. Four time zones west of here is Nakapu, an island in the Santa Cruz group north of Vanuatu, where John Coleridge Patteson and his companions were killed on 20 September 1871.
And yet far away as these places are, and as far away as the 19th century is from us, we are bound to them by ties not only of affection but also of our common humanity.
Melanesia has an Anglican church now; Patteson went there to found it. Instead he went to his death – by mistake.
He worked to stamp out the flourishing slave trade in the Solomon Islands. The people of Nakapu mistook his party for slave raiders, returning after a recent raid, and took their revenge on his body – one stroke of the hatchet for each native who had been killed in the earlier raid.
The reaction of the government in England was to work even harder to stamp out slavery, and the slave trade, in the south Pacific territories under their flag.
The church redoubled its missionary efforts; Bishop Selwyn, who had sent Patteson to Melanesia from New Zealand, worked to reconcile the people of Melanesia “to the memory of one who came to help and not to hurt.”
The Most Revd Sir Ellison Leslie Pogo KBE, primate of The Church of the Province of Melanesia, is Patteson’s successor: we are all his heirs.
Stuff happens. The joke goes on: Why does this stuff keep happening to us? Or, less popularly: Why do we keep on doing this stuff?
As Tony Campolo recently pointed out, God created humanity to act in freedom, and thus to be capable of going against his will. Out of love, God gave us the freedom to choose to love God in return. Out of love.
Christine Sine of St. Alban’s, Edmonds, Washington, recently wrote: “All of us, no matter how strong our faith, will at some point in our life journey suffer pain and death.” Through Christ, God is able to use the suffering we endure to further God’s purpose in our lives and in the world. God’s grace works through human weakness.
Out of love, he gave us freedom. Out of freedom, we may choose, in the words of the apostle, to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way [to] fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) Out of love.
And somehow, out of death, comes life: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
To really live involves, eventually and inevitably, dying. But death is not the end of the story.
The life that is saved is not the life of this body as it is – but ongoing life in God, that begins when we choose to live in Christ.
Out of love. Out of freedom. Out of death. Into life.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Lesser Feasts and Fasts (Church Publishing, 2006)
1 Peter 4:12-19, Psalm 121, Psalm 116:1-8, Mark 8:34-38, Genesis 22:1-14, Romans 8:31-39, Galatians 6:2
Context, September 2007, Part A, page 3-4 & Part B, page 6.
Tony Campolo, “God as Suffering Servant”, Tikkun, May/June 2007
Christine Sine, “The Challenge of Suffering”, Prism, March-April 2007