Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 28th August 2022
Dear Friends, Last Sunday at Meeting for Worship we heard ministry about a story from John’s Gospel, where Jesus rescues a woman from being stoned for adultery. Faced with the … Message from the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (PaCET) for Sunday Meeting 28th August 2022
Last Sunday at Meeting for Worship we heard ministry about a story from John’s Gospel, where Jesus rescues a woman from being stoned for adultery. Faced with the prospect of violence, Jesus refuses to take part, and saves the woman’s life without himself resorting to force. His actions subvert his community’s expectations. Everyone else is following a well-understood script, but Jesus is improvising.
Listening to this, I was reminded of a story from a very different source about responding to unjust violence.
The Orkneyinga Saga, written in the early 13th century, recounts the history of Orkney and the surrounding area, describing a harsh and competitive society caught between paganism and Christianity. One of the most intriguing figures is Magnus, an Earl of Orkney, a leader who was posthumously regarded as a saint. The cathedral that bears his name still stands in Kirkwall.
When he was a young man, and before he became Earl, Magnus was travelling by sea with some relatives near the coast of Wales. His companions decided to carry out an armed raid on Anglesey, but Magnus refused to take part, saying “I have no quarrel with these people.” Angrily, they told Magnus to get below deck: “If you’re going to be a coward, at least get out of our way.” But Magnus refused to budge. All through the fight, he sat at the front of the ship, reciting the Psalms. He didn’t stop the conflict, but he survived unscathed. To use a familiar Quaker phrase, he let his life speak, and his example remains powerful and moving to this day.
At one level, what Magnus did in staying on deck was a riposte to the allegation of cowardice. But I like to think of it also as an expression of solidarity with his kinfolk. It is as if Magnus is saying to them, “I will not take part in your violence, but nevertheless I will share in your danger.” You could call this battlefield pacifism. The Friends’ Ambulance Unit in the First and Second World Wars showed something of the same spirit.
The story of Magnus, like the Gospel story, was written down long after the events that it describes. In both cases, we can speculate about historical accuracy. But it’s worth remembering a line that’s sometimes attributed to Native American storytellers: “Whether it happened this way or not, the story is true.”
On behalf of the Pastoral Care and Eldership Team (Bob Harwood, David Hitchin, Chris Lawson, Tim Pitt-Payne, Theresa Samms, Nancy Wall)