Blessing of Praying for Each Other

There must be many who are at a loss from the weariness of self-restraint due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.  Since last year, we have been tossed about by the unknown virus called COVID-19, and churches within the Diocese of Chubu have been repeating suspension and resumption of their public worships following the judgment standard declared by the national and local government.  Despite wondering if this was the right decision and with much pain in our hearts, we took thorough preventive measures by limiting the number of people, listening hymns only to the sound of the organ, and live streaming to somehow keep our worship and religious life.  Unfortunately, this unstable condition will most likely continue for another few years and we may become despondent, but we hope to keep moving forward without losing hope and believing there are God’s will and blessings that are beyond human understanding.

The other day, it suddenly hit me looking at my colleague who was worrying “if there was somehow a way to at least put subtitles in the church live streaming” for the hearing impaired.  I strongly realized that, as the necessity of creating a good internet environment at church becomes unavoidable similar to society, we had solely been preoccupied by its convenience and the necessity of spreading it, and the most important attitude of giving consideration to those who are unable to deal with the situation due to various reasons was insufficient.  Many people have no choice but to give up even if they want to participate in the live streaming or refrain from worship because of their age or underlying illness even if church worship resumes.  It is essential to improve the internet environment for post-pandemic mission, but I feel it is more important to thoughtfully respond to those who are confused by the sudden changes.

According to the Gospel of Mark, finishing his ministry in Galilee, Jesus along with his disciples headed to Jerusalem where the crowd became larger as the days went by.  In the final phase of the journey, as they were setting off from Jericho onto Jerusalem, a blind man, Bartimaeus, shouted “have mercy on me!”  As the people rebuked the man, Jesus was the only one who stopped, and he demonstrated his work of healing.  (Mark 10:46~)  As described, Jesus was a person who put the presence of one single person before his own accomplishment.  He treasured the presence of the individual, especially the socially vulnerable, and tried to walk together with those who were suffering and grieving.

I have been attending various meetings lately and feel that negative opinions tend to dominate due to the uncertainty of the future.  It has been pointed out that the call for “physical (social) distancing” has led to disconnection between people and promotes separation and disparity.  However, because it is a time of anxiety, we must not forget that we have been given the blessing and the power from God to pray for each other.  By thinking about the presence of each person whom we have not been able to see in person for a while and praying more than ever, we will be encouraged to form a deeper and richer community.  For that, I feel that the church is willing to continue asking what they can do specifically.

Revd Timothy Hirozumi Doi

Like a Stump of a Tree

Several years ago, thick branches had fallen down after another, so two large fir trees were cut to prevent any future accidents.  The land became a bit bare, but more sunlight was shining in on the front side of the chapel, and it no longer froze in the winter time.  The stump can be seen right outside the rector’s office.  After a while, I came to realize that an interesting phenomenon occurs daily with the stump.  On numerous occasions, I see people counting annual growth rings, or even sitting down and taking a break on the stump.  Young people and children enjoy taking pictures on their smartphones posing on the stump.  In spring and fall, there are people sitting down reading books sitting down for quite some time, while others are drawing pictures. However, the most interesting thing is that although less than half of the visitors actually set foot inside the chapel standing right in front of the stump, visitors from all around the world, of all ages, beyond gender and sexuality are drawn toward this stump.  I even feel that stumps have some sort of strange power that stimulates human instincts.

What I recollect from the stump is a slide show I saw at Sunday School when I was a child, “That’s Why the Tree was Happy.”  I later learned that this was based on Shel Silverstein’s picture book, “The Giving Tree,” which was a bit talked about when Haruki Murakami translated it about 10 years ago.  It is a story about a boy’s life from his childhood to his later years depicting the relationship between him and an apple tree.  The tree continues to give its own fruit, branches, and trunk to the boy when asked for in certain stages as the boy grows up to be a man, and the story ends with the tree providing the now grown-up boy a stump to sit and rest.  The giving tree repeats the phrase, “And the tree was happy.”  I think this storybook should be read from different points of view, but when I first saw this slide show at Sunday School, it left a strong impression on me even as a child.  I understood that God is of a presence as pure as this apple tree.  In particular, the last scene where the boy, now an elderly man, given a stump to sit, left a deep impression on my mind.  And, the image of God I felt at that time seems not to have changed fundamentally even now. 

Each gospel says many people always gathered in the place of the Lord Jesus.  He welcomed them with love, and taught that each one of them was living within the blessings of God.  He then said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The overflowing love of the Lord Jesus for people lead to the way of the Cross in the form of dedicating himself in the end.  Even in the extreme state of loneliness and suffering, the love of the Lord Jesus for the people does not change.  Far from it, he even prayed for the weak (us) who betrayed the Lord many times and lived a self-centered life. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

The longest ever 10-day Gold Week has finished.  There were again many tourists around the stump which became one of their many moments in life.  Over time, it will probably be forgotten from people’s memories.  However, I saw in the figure of the stump, always accepting quietly and unconditionally the one scene in the precious life of each one of us, overlap with the Lord Jesus.  I hope to be as close as I can be to that stump. (Bible citations take from the Japan Bible Society Common Bible Translation)

Revd Timothy Hirozumi Doi
Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church