Church as an “Ecclesia”– Facing the Novel Coronavirus

As the novel coronavirus outbreak has become a pandemic, churches are also taking various measures to prevent infection.

At the current point of time as I am writing this (on March 15), five out of eleven dioceses of Nippon Sei Ko Kai, Anglican Church in Japan have suspended public worship.  Currently, worship has not been completely suspended within the Diocese of Chubu, but some churches have suspended worships on Sundays due to the outbreak of those infected in the local area.  There is a possibility that we may have to suspend worship in our diocese depending on future circumstances.

This virus may infect other people before specific symptoms appear, and one may become a source of infection before realizing it, and may also be infected from those around you.  Such circumstances may happen.  Also, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare are warning people “to avoid gathering in groups in areas with poor ventilation where people gather closely together” to prevent infection.  Many churches apply to this very condition, and there is a possibility that they have an unspecified number of people going in and out.  Considering this, suspension of worship is unavoidable as an emergency measure. 

On the other hand, given that a church is an “ecclesia (a gathering, to gather),” it goes without saying that it is not something easily solved by just saying “we are suspending our church worship due to danger.”  However, this infection can be fatal depending on conditions and cannot be treated like a common cold.  Because church is a community where it values life, this matter needs to be handled carefully.

At Diocese of Tokyo where I am temporarily assigned, a video of the Holy Eucharist presided over by the bishop is being distributed as one measure being taken during the suspension of worship, and this has been viewed by many people.  In that process, an unexpected way of use has emerged.

When a certain priest visited a hospitalized church member and showed this video on the smartphone, the patient was in tears of joy and said, “I am so happy because I have not been able to go to church for a while.”  I have also heard that elderlies who have been at home for a long time are repeatedly watching the video and singing the hymns.  Before we start saying how we are not able to go to church or take part in the sacrament on Sundays, I was made to think that we should reflect on just how much our thoughts we put into for these people so far. 

This issue was recently raised at a meeting of the Ecumenism Dialogue with Catholic and Lutheran churches.  Lutheran churches have decided not to hold the Holy Eucharist for the time being, and Catholic Church Archdiocese Nagasaki recommends family members and others read the bible on the day and share while mass is being suspended.  I have learned from both churches that in this case, it is a time to recall that we live on His Word, and we are invited to share it with people close to us.

Ecclesiastical churches must not stop gathering at any time.  However, they must also be open to the many possibilities of specific “ways of gathering.”  Where is God urging churches to turn and act in this time of difficulty?

Revd David Shintaro Ichihara

“Moving Toward a New Diocese”

This will be the last column I will be writing for the monthly newsletter “Tomoshibi” in my current position.  I will be retiring as of March 31.  As I look back, it has been 44 years with the Diocese of Chubu since I started at Nagoya St. Matthew’s Church as a Candidate for Holy Orders in April 1976. 

I have been at 8 churches during those years, and 20 in total when including managing churches.  For the last 10 years, I worked as the Diocesan Bishop.  I do not know if I was able to work to my fullest, but I cannot thank enough for being given the privilege in having me work for God.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support.   

I will be resigning from my current position, and Reverend Renta Nishihara will be the succeeding bishop of the diocese.  Under the succeeding bishop, the role will be taken on not only by the bishop but of the lay and clergy of the diocese; I pray that worship services, missionary, and pastoral work will further be enriched.  Of course, I would like to support as much as possible as a retired minister. 

The diocesan bishop installation of Bishop Nishihara will bring a great change to the worship services, missionary, and pastoral work.  It seems that work as a diocesan bishop from now on will be different from my time as a bishop.  The specifics in changes are yet to come, but both lay and clergies must change their consciousness and respond to those changes.    

In that sense, the installation of Bishop Nishihara is something that will give Diocese of Chubu a new direction, and there will be the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, why not take the plunge into the long-pending matter on the diocesan organization reform.  

Also, a question has been raised at the Province on the ways of the current diocesan system.  The House of Bishops has suggested an idea of “Deanery-Diocese System (name tentative),” and it is without doubt that this will be a great matter of discussion at this year’s General Synod of Nippon Sei Ko Kai.  How do we face this issue of the Diocese System as Diocese of Chubu?  This will be a matter which will deeply involve in the ways of the future of the Diocese.   

However, even if there are various problems, the important thing is that our belief in God will not change no matter how the organization or system changes.  Church is not an organization.  A church exists where there is faith of each individual person, so let us keep hold of our own faith.  It isn’t difficult.  Personally, I believe people can move forward even if they do not practice anything special in worship services, missionary, or pastoral work.  Rather, the basics of faith should be valued, and turn one’s mind to the individual’s spirit and the small things.  These will become the base of missionary work and pastoral care, and by being faithful and respectful, we believe there will be a new outlook on missionary work and pastoral care ahead.    

The ministry of Jesus in the region of Galilee was small.  However, that small ministry was the very work of God Our Father.  Appreciating the activities and relationships, though they might be small, at each church will lead to the further revitalization of churches and the diocese.

May God bless you.

The Rt Revd Peter Ichiro Shibusawa

Christmas Invitation

The annual Christmas pageant (Nativity Play) was held again this winter at Inariyama Kurumi Kindergarten.  A handmade invitation was sent to me for I was scheduled to speak and read the Bible at the beginning of the pageant as the chaplain.  As practice begins, children’s singing voices echoes in the chapel. Children who were in tears because they were not able to play the role they had wanted and are also practicing.  Looking at the children wearing their costumes, the memories of those days when I wore such costumes came clearly back into my mind. 

Even children who are usually fine will feel nervous as the day of the performance approaches.  I remembered what the angel had told Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, who received the news of the great joy of Jesus’ birth, “Don’t be afraid.”  At first, they were surprised and afraid, but receiving the news from God, they set off on a journey which was not going to be easy.

The familiar faces, voices, and gestures of children overlapped with the people from the Bible, and its events came to life.  Joseph may have had such a look.  It must have been difficult walking around each inn with two of them.  The children who I had thought were still young were moving with their own intention.

On the day of the performance, family members gathered at the chapel and as they looked on, the story began with a narration by the second-year children wearing white cotters.  The first-year kindergarteners acting as “star children” sing in cute gestures, and the oldest children play the roles of Joseph and Mary, the angels, innkeeper, shepherds, sheep, and wise men. The kind innkeeper sings, “I’m really sorry, we have no rooms available now,” and points to the adjacent inn.  The singing of the shepherds and sheep was wonderful, and at the climax of the play where each wise man gives an offering and sings, I could not help but think that the main character in the play was everyone.

The Christmas story may be called as an invitation of joy from God to each of us living in our respective places. We are all essential in the eyes of God.  And the protagonist of Christmas, Jesus the Son of God, shines light on all lives.

The most wonderful part of the script was where the shepherd and sheep, the wise men, and the innkeepers all came to the stable to worship the newly born Jesus, saying “Mary and Joseph, congratulations.” The angels join, and everyone surrounds Jesus. “Congratulations” is not a word that only Mary received.  This was a scene where we were made to realize that the Lord had come to us, and that it was a joyful greeting that God had come to us. How wonderful it is to see a Christmas pageant where we can hear the Words through the children’s voices, appearances, and lives.

The other day, there was a woman who came to her first Christmas Eve service.  She was a graduate of a missionary school, and said laughing, “I wanted to do something Christmas.”  There is no doubt that she must have heard the Christmas story once.  I pray that again in the year 2020, we will be a church continuing to share and sing this joy that the Lord has come to us.

Deacon Mary Reiko Yamato
Nagano Holy Savior’s Church

We Who Wait on the Lord

As the end of the year draws closer, news headlines of the year are featured, and I think back feeling they were from more than a year ago.  During the Edo Period, the common people would listen to Joya no Kane (bells ringing out the old year) and talk about “Shichimi Go-etsu San-e.”  Family members would rejoice that the year has been a good one if one had 7 delicious food, 5 happy moments and 3 wonderful encounters with someone during the year.  This is quite a stylish way of spending the end of the year.  Smartphones have become an element of our lives these days, so it might be worthwhile looking at stored photos on our phones.  Unfortunate things and disasters can happen in any year.  However, by retracing one’s memory little by little, we may be led to realize that there were happy and thankful moments.  Similarly, if people can look to the past from the future, the new year, for sure, may be welcomed peacefully.  

“It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”  (Lamentations 3:26)

Everyone knows waiting on God is not easy.  The Divine Providence is vast and boundless.  When unacceptable happenings occur while waiting on God, we may be torn between conflicting emotions suspecting the salvation of God and losing control of ourselves and even our belief.  The book of Isaiah is going to be read during the Christmas service. 

Although it was more than 700 years before the birth of our Savior, it is said as if it has already happened.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”  (Isaiah 9:6) Since the birth of Christ is the Word of God and the will of God, Isaiah took it as an event that has, for sure, already happened.  Waiting for the Savior is not just waiting for something uncertain.  The true Savior appears to those who earnestly trust in God without any agitation towards the length of the wait.

Abram went as the Lord had told him.  He was not able to obtain land easily nor was there any sign of him begetting an heir.   To him, the sound of the dry desert wind might have sounded as if “that cannot possibly be.”

However, Abram looked at the stars afar, the light in darkness and continued to hold belief in God.   At the beginning of the Christmas Story, the Gospel of Luke depicts Mary who was confused by the angel’s words.  “How will this be…?”  Mary realized that God’s greatest promise was the birth of the Savior, the Lord himself, and she came to wait on the Lord.  We also wait on our Lord. 

“But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  (Romans 8:24b-25)  

The Christmas preparations are starting.  We wait with joy for that is the definite happiness.  The Savior will come into this world among us.  Let us spend the season of Advent trusting salvation, love, and forgiveness which God had already started.

Revd Matthew Naomichi Yano
Karuizawa Shaw Memorial Church

“Do not be Afraid of Being Denied”      

It has been over six months since I have started as a chaplain at Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School.  There have been fewer opportunities to see you all from Chubu Diocese which makes me feel very sad, but let me take a moment to update you on my status.   

“Our School and Christianity,” the Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School Handbook, explains about Article 1 (Purpose) of the Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School regulations advocating character building based on Christianity.  It also states that the school’s purpose is to provide education based on the teachings of Christianity and is not a school to coerce Christian faith.  It seems that the work of a chaplain at Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School is not simply “leading students, as many as possible, to baptism.”  For example, in “The Value and Treasure of the Anglican Churches” written by Rev. Dr. Prof. Renta Nishihara, it says that Sei Ko Kai affiliated schools, through sharing the tradition of the Church of England, was established from the point of view of pastoral care towards all those residents living within the parish.  Schools were established not as a missionary tool to increase the number of church members, and I believe it is the same with Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School.  So, I actively convey the Rikkyo Niiza Junior and Senior High School “freedom of religious belief” to the students and their parental guardians by referring to the establishment of Rikkyo spirit, “with our purpose to provide education based on the teachings of Christianity, we are not a school to force the faith of Christianity.”   

Speaking in this way might lead to saying that I am too permissive or not doing my work.  However, that is not so.  Frank T. Griswold, former Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church USA, stated that Anglican-related educational facilities are places to taste the truth, and students and faculty members are people who seek the truth.  These facilities must remain open at all times to search after truth.  It must not be closed.  One must not fear of being questioned or denied.   Anglican-related facilities which are models of Christianity are dangerous places in such a way.   Declaring “freedom of religion,” which is similar to saying that “even a believer of Buddhism, Shintoism, or a non-believer cherish that belief,” means Christianity itself is being tested and denied.  It is “a place of great danger.”  However, we must not be afraid.  The road is a rough one, but I believe it is a natural thing for via media (the middle way) churches and Anglican/Episcopalian educational facilities which “do not assert that they know the truth.”  On our way in searching for the truth with such students, I believe it is a natural figure in which students learn the importance of teaching of love by Jesus, and then be given by God those who will be baptized.

Revd Joseph Masatsugu Ishida
Chaplain of Rikkyo Niiza Junior & Senior High School, Rikkyo St. Paul’s Chapel

Good News

On Saturday, June 29 of this year, Mr. Timothy Osamu Kondo of Niigata St. Paul’s Church was baptized and confirmed.  The 75-year old Mr. Kondo had a stroke 16 years ago and suffers speech impediment aftereffects and is physically challenged.  

After every monthly Holy Eucharist, while each individual tells about one’s daily thoughts or God’s works discovered through occurrences, Ms. Michiko Kondo, Osamu’s companion, would oftentimes talk about him.  I told her I would like to see Osamu, and the preparation time came for baptism and confirmation.   

I visited Osamu with Michiko at the nursing home he was staying at and explained to him about baptism and confirmation that Michiko had told him about beforehand.  When I asked him if he wanted to think about it a little more, he immediately answered my question, telling me he would like to be baptized and confirmed.  I was truly happy to hear his answer. 

It had been a while since the last baptism at Muramatsu, so with the godparents-to-be Mr. Tadashi Sato and Ms. Atsumi Sato, we took a moment to read the Book of Common Prayers and pray after the Holy Communion, and shared a time of learning. 

We had asked support from the people of the nursing home beforehand and were able to have the baptism and confirmation in the room where Osamu was staying.

The following day was “Paul’s Festival” at Niigata St. Paul’s Church.  Michiko had joined us hoping to give her gratitude to all those who had prayed with joy during the preparations of the baptism and confirmation.  Michiko had wanted to have her wedding in a church, but Osamu, who was not a Christian, opposed to this idea and her dream was never realized.  She had always regretted this and told me that she had always kept in mind the wedding vows said at her relative’s wedding. 

“Wilt thou have this woman/man to be thy wedded wife/husband to live together in the Holy Estate of matrimony?  Wilt thou love her/ him?  Comfort her/him, honor and keep her/him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others keep thee only unto her/him as long as you both shall live?”

The two had been supporting each other as both of them worked at the photo studio.  Their religious beliefs were different, and everyday was not all fun.  When Osamu, in charge of managing the photo studio, had a stroke and was unconscious for several days, Michiko was very nervous.  So, when Osamu woke up, she told him, “I’m so relieved.  Don’t worry about a thing.  Leave it all up to me.  When people get married at church, they make a promise to keep each other in sickness and in health.”  She remembered when Osamu, unable to formulate speech, heard these words and tears rolled down his cheeks. 

Michiko said that Osamu’s baptism and confirmation seem as if Michiko herself has received a reward for her faithful life.  One’s joy had become the joy of our community of faith, and those who had gathered were all happy.  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” thank you!

Revd. Fides Sunhee Kim
Niigata St. Paul’s Church

Church of England Findings from the Church Growth Research Program

I would like to introduce the “Church of England’s Findings from the Church Growth Research Program 2011-2013,” (hereafter “report”) which was translated through the collaboration of the Diocesan Missionary Council’s Ministry Department and Educational Department in 2017.  The report is titled “From Anecdote to Evidence 1.0,” a good reference in studying the case on growing churches even in Western Europe where there tends to be a decline in Christian churches in general. 

The reason the word “growth” is being used is that the current situation of decline is so rapid that it cannot be helped but to demand for growth.

When speaking about church growth, it is largely divided into numerical and contextual growths.  Since the time of European imperial colonization, churches for a long time have been using the Great Commission from Matthew Chapter 28 and believed numerical growth to be as a high priority value.  Granted, the increase in number has a direct relation to church operation and therefore, difficult to lump together, but alongside numerical growth, contextual growth (glorious life) has been mentioned as a keyword more serious, and internal, holistic, and social growths have come to be valued. 

Especially in England, this report tells about how it has now become an era where churches must come closer to the people who have left traditional churches, and with the young generations and multi-cultural residents.  And with the start of the new era with rapid changes, not churches just waiting and making themselves familiar to the people by saying “welcome,” but churches must listen to the words of the people by stepping outside.  The report tells how Western European churches who had never faced such huge changes with passing of time have overcome those circumstances.    

Of course, this is not saying that growth will be seen in our Japanese churches imitating in such a way.  I would like you to read this from a standpoint of not how to convey Christianity, but how to relate the values of God’s Kingdom.  

Looking at the story of the “Good Samaritan” in the bible, the thinking of the Jews in those days did not include Samarians as neighbors.  (A thinking that will not be broken.) However, repeating questions and answers to “Who is our neighbor?”, it is important to find our new neighbor in this era.  (A thinking that there is not a thinking that can’t be broken.) 

I feel present churches with traditional faith may grow together through the working of aggressively finding their new neighbor.  Of course, there is a certain distance between churches in Japan, where England and Christian culture are not the mainstream, but there are similar points in the circumstances of missionary.  Due to the shift of younger generations, the existing local community is falling apart, and an increase in the elderly population has been greatly proclaimed.  The commonality is the phenomenon that the church itself is losing power of address from the younger people. 

The church missionary work will be targeted not only to the member attendants of the church, but to the whole living area where the church belongs to.  It is important that common awareness is present in the whole body of the congregation.  And, not only the laity securing the religious calmness, but the purpose of the church is for all people of the society to live a glorious life. (To be able to feel God’s Kingdom). 

Please take a moment to read this report in that sense, and have a chat about it.

Revd Ignasio Yoonsic Jung
Sanjo St. Mary’s Church; Nagaoka St. Luke’s Church

“Religious Activities” of the Church

The theme at the Tokyo Diocese Ministers Workshop held the other day was on “Church Finance.”  Cases were introduced where profits from bazaars have been taxed these recent years, and lending its storage room for the community’s disaster prevention were not seen as a part of religious activities, and therefore became subject to taxation.  Surprised at the same time, but to be honest, I was infuriated at the act of the public offices, who do not hold direct relationship to the church to limit the activities without consulting.  I also felt this kind of view by the tax office is something we need to question about on our own views of the church.        

“What is church?” is one of the basic themes of theology, also called ecclesiology.  There is also “communion ecclesiology” which has drawn considerable attention in the field during these few years.  This is just one “way of thinking” and includes many variations, but I believe this is a powerful model of the church in Japan.

Communion ecclesiology, by placing its focus on various “communions,” has a possibility of going beyond the legal and systematic understanding, and emphasizes the correlation between the universal churches spreading worldwide and the individual churches.  In other words, “a church is not just a building nor a group managed as an organization.  Christians work in various ways and through their creating a relationship with the surrounding, is born this ‘communion’ where the true form of church is seen.”      

Within the society such as Japan, when a church attempts to form such a communion, it does not only remain in the old category of Christianity, but it stands to reason that it will form relations with the local community and various organizations.  There lies the possibility for churches in Japan.  I have been given the opportunity for quite a while to work at schools, and from my experiences, there is a form of a “church” within Christian schools for sure.  I am convinced that Christ’s doings go beyond the realms of “Christianity.”  The works of the church are done in that sense to spread in various forms this “communion” which is created in places that go beyond the framework of conventional “churches.”  It is an important work of the church in Japan. 

Going back to the story on tax matters, we need to question the view that limits “religious activities” to a very narrow field.  Towards the idea of bazaars and cooperation with the local community not considered as “religious activities,” we must state and actually show that “Christianity is not a narrow-minded religion.”  On the contrary, if churches are to turn towards the thinking that “it is good enough as long as churches hold their Sunday services,” then the act itself proves that the people themselves have affirmed to the view of the public. 

When we try to create the “church is communion,” one should see the shape of the church which would never have been imagined until now.  Believe that Christ is with us and works with us, so why not put our heads together?

Revd David Shintaro Ichihara
Okaya St. Barnaba’s Church

Does the Church’s Political Statement Go Against “Political Separation”?

On February 21, the House of Bishops and the Justice and Peace Committee issued a statement on the ‘Emperor’s abdication and enthronement,’ “The country’s involvement in the Daijo-sai (the festival to celebrate the succession of the emperor) violates the Separation of Church and State.”  It pointed out that spending government expenditure on the festival as a public event is against the “security of freedom of religion and Separation of Church and State” as stated in Article 20 of the Constitution of Japan.  In addition, we strongly protest and are deeply concerned that by placing the festival as a public event, the image of the emperor is instilled as a special presence, and furthermore as an image of deification. 

When a church makes a political statement, one might see such criticism as “violation of the separation of Church and State” with quotes from Matthew 22:21 of the Bible, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  However, the separation of Church and State, in our country, is inseparable from freedom of religion, and it is deeply related to thoughts and both freedom of religion and speech.  Article 20 of the Constitution is stipulated as follows.

Constitution Article 20
Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all.  No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.  
2. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice.
3. The State and its organs shall refrain from the religious education or any other religious activity. 

As stated in Article 20 Clause 3 of the Constitution, the separation of Church and State means that the State is separated from religion.  What is being said is the separation of “State and religion,” a principle that denies the State’s involvement in any specific religion, and guarantees the freedom of religion, one of the basic human rights.  Although the kanji “sei” (meaning to govern) is used in the Japanese word for the “separation of Church and State,” the kanji “sei” is neither “seiji” (politics) nor “seito” (political party). It does not mean the separation of “politics and religion.” 

Referring to the latter part of Article 20 Clause 1 of the Constitution of Japan “no religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority,” it seems to arise a misunderstanding that it goes against the separation of Church and State law when a religious organization is involved in political activities.  This provision prohibits religions to receive privileges from the State and demonstrates the religious neutrality of the State.

The separation of Church and State sought by the spirit of the Constitution of Japan is stipulated from reflecting on the unified State and State Shinto infringing the basic human rights of many people in Asia and the people of Japan before the war.   We cannot omit this and think about the separation of Church and State and the freedom of religion.  Again, it is demanding the religious neutrality of the State, not the political neutrality of the religious people.

Rather, the Constitution of Japan guarantees “freedom of assembly and association,” and religious groups also have their freedom of assembly and association.  Those who believe in God are certainly free to gather and organize religious groups, and no one is prohibited from participating in political activities based on their own faith.

If anything, churches, not bound by the political system, will tell the words of God through gospel preaching.  Our showing the values of Christ to the world based on the words and deeds of Jesus, is an important responsibility of our churches.   

Therefore, the church has no choice but to express the intention to this “statement on the emperor’s abdication and enthronement” since Christian churches in the past permitted the adherents to visit shrines as a “social etiquette.”  It is part of a reflection on the fact that we have cooperated in moving forward with the war through the united Japanese nation and State Shinto and the failure to fulfill our prophetic mission.  

Basic human rights were given to us by God.  When the country neglects the Separation of Church and State and tries to violate the basic human rights, the church must play a role as a prophet to correct it according to the words of the Bible.

Revd Ambrosia Kaori Goto
Nagoya St. Mark’s Church, Aichi St. Luke’s Church

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