It’s That Time Again

2 comments Written on March 10th, 2014     
Filed under: earthquake, missions, reflections
Japanese income taxes are due in a few days so everyone is fearfully crunching their numbers, grudgingly filling out the paper work, or procrastinating until the last day and dreading the lines at city hall. Although I find Japanese tax forms only take a fraction of the time it takes me to decipher and properly fill out U.S. tax forms, nevertheless it is one of those chores to which I rarely look forward. It’s that time again!

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, and on Sunday I preached my first Lenten sermon of the season. In fact I preached it four times! In the morning I was at a church that has worship at 7:30, 9:15 and 11:00. By the end I think I almost knew what I wanted to say… In the evening I was invited to another church on the opposite side of the city, where I preached again; the same sermon but a much shorter version and in another language. Now it’s Tuesday so I’m diving into next week’s text and once again striving to hear God’s voice as it speaks of things past, but to things present, and because of things future. Lent is always a heavy season for the preacher, and yet it firmly holds one’s attention because of the sparkling future just over the horizon; the promise of incredible celebration and victory in just a few short weeks. Lent is here; it’s that time again!

Three years ago today the earth trembled. Even here in Tokyo, more than 300 km from the epicenter, things shook harder and longer than most of us had ever experienced. When the earth shakes, things crumble, often starting chain reactions of things gone horribly wrong. And when the earth that shakes is beneath the ocean, the waters often roar in reply; and so they did three years ago. Up and down the coast for 500 km the black waters rose and devoured. News casters in the English speaking world came to refer to it as the triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown). Here in Japan it is simply known as 3.11. Today marks three years since that day and I still am at a loss for words that can describe the experience and events of 3.11 accurately. The sorrow and pain is still visible everywhere in coastal Tohoku, but always in tandem with the ever present signs of recovery. Testimonies of death and signs of new life stand side by side; stories of loss are complimented by experiences of new found treasure; acres and acres of land stand empty where vibrant villages, towns and cities once stood and other plots of previously uninhabited land have been transformed into new communities, temporary as they may be. Wreckage of countless boats that were washed up into all sorts of unnatural locations have been cleaned up and taken away, and in the harbors one sees fleets of new boats that have taken their place. Today we pause and think back, for the third time. Memories of where we were, what we were doing and what followed are vivid for everyone who was here; permanently etched into our personal and collective memory. How do you even begin to memorialize something as horrible as 3.11? Once again today we ponder the unknowable… it’s that time again.

Is there anything that can tie all these moments together, all of these times to which we return year after year. Is there any thread that would attempt to make sense of this intersection of events? Taxes are a bittersweet sort of thing I guess. Sweet because I’m thankful for the privilege of living in a nation with a functioning government that actually does more good than bad. Thankful for a society that by and large works. Thankful for a job that pays me enough to require that I pay taxes. And yet as we continue to hear reports of the government’s bumbling response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima I have to ask, do they really deserve this money we are all giving them? And then I’m reminded of our Lord in the wilderness and on the cross. The journey to which Jesus calls us is never promised to be fair, efficient or even functional. If there is one thing Lent shouts out it is that when the work of building God’s kingdom here on earth gains traction and begins to progress in earnest, it always gets messy! That much is inherent in the process. And if there is one thing that relief work after natural disasters will show us, it is messiness. Physical, mental, social, economic, political and spiritual messiness.

And yet somehow our attention is held and our ongoing commitment demanded in the midst of all the messiness. You see, there is that sparkling future just over the horizon; the source of hope and purpose and meaning to which we cling, and to which this season attests. Yes indeed, it is that time again!

Soon it will be cherry blossom time again. Last week on my way to Tohoku I stopped in Fukushima City and visited a park that is known for its acres and acres of blossoming trees. It was still a bit early but I enjoyed seeing the plum blossoms, the witch hazel and wintersweet. Spring is just around the corner! It’s that time again.

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2 comments “It’s That Time Again”

Thanks Jim. Good words for the beginning of the Lenten Season!

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Love you two. Thank you for writing.

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