A couple of weeks ago, a congregation member came to me with a request/reminder/he
might have said "I've got something for you". I expected a tidbit of wisdom, something funny. Instead, he reminded me that this Sunday, December 7, would be the 62nd anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And, that he expected some recognition of that in worship this morning.
When I was in sales and marketing, one of the things drilled into one's head is that the customer is always right. Now, Jack is not a customer, the church is not a sales location--no matter how many church people try to make that comparison. But that phrase does still live in my being somewhere--so I told Jack that I would certainly keep Pearl Harbor in mind as I prepared for worship today.
My hesitancy has something to do with my stance on war, my upbringing in the 60's
marching in a peace rally or two, being shaped by the music of the era from "With God on our Side to Universal Soldier to Green Berets, or even the bumper stickers that are still available--make Love not war.
My hesitancy has more to do with what I think the purpose of Worship is. Some days I'm more articulate than others--some services are closer to the mark than others, But fundamentally, we're here to worship and praise God, to re-fill our own selves with God-stuff so that as we go back into the world we can say with the singer, "I woke up this morning with my mind, staid on Jesus", and that attitude can follow us and lead us into the day.
Anything that gets in the way of Worshiping and praising God, and refilling our own selves, well, gets in the way. Anything we put here that becomes an object of worship instead of an aid to worship takes our attention away from the focus. I get myself into trouble if I can't bite my tongue when there is an American flag proudly displayed beside the altar in the church. Yes, we are a church in America. But we are a church first, with our allegiance to God first, asking God's blessings on the entire world (not just on America)
But the symbols of our worship aren't all that spanking clean themselves. The cross, the
central symbol of all Christianity, is the instrument of one of the most vile ways to kill a human being that the world has ever known. And we keep it at a central place in our worship as sign--a sign that no matter what evils seem to have prevailed, nothing, not even a horrible death on a cross, can keep us from the love of God. Nothing that happens here--nothing that we do, nothing that is done to us, can keep God's love from us. (Romans 8:38-39) The Epistle writer tells us that even while we were yet sinners, God loved us. The cross is a pretty powerful symbol of that.
So, it is right and good that the cross is a symbol that we keep front and center in our worship and in our lives.
This Sunday is the Sunday in Advent we look to Peace as the theme. Peace is more than
"Not war" Peace is a way of healing, a way of relating to the world, a way of continuing to gain understanding, and acting on that understanding.
A clergy man from Maine tells the following story:
"At Pearl Harbor, I witnessed an extraordinary act of repentance, sorrow and
honor", he says. "I stood in the gleaming white arched and covered memorial above
the USS Arizona. One minister from our group had been there that day, December
7th, 1941, when the Japanese flew in to ravage our pacific fleet. Our group gathered
around him as he shared his vivid descriptions of the horrors of being aboard a
flaming and sinking vessel. While listening, I chanced to see a Japanese tourist
stoically entering the Memorial.
The man's fine clothes, his long tie, his buttoned sports jacket were in contrast
to most in Hawaii, where lawyers, corporate executives and even ministers seldom
wear ties or jackets. This man, dressed as he was, had a purpose. He walked with
two women, perhaps his wife and an older daughter, both in conservative dresses.
The man appeared to be in his 60's, spoke only Japanese and carried an ornate and
expensive multi-flowered wreath.
The Minister veteran from our group continued talking: he was below deck,
disoriented and the ship was taking on water. His buddy and friend lay dead at his
feet as he struggled in the darkness of his fear and adrenaline to escape to the surface.
As he talked, neither he nor the rest of the group ever noticed the Japanese tourist.
The tourist stopped, turned to his wife and daughter and spoke to them.
They stood quietly, solemnly. He straightened his tie, tugged at the hem of
his jacket, squared his shoulders, breathed in and then exhaled in
preparation. Then he soberly stepped forward alone toward the railing at
the waters edge above the USS Arizona. Around him, others continued talking,
asking questions, listening to the minster in our group, not witnessing the
scene of the tourist who had captured my heart and mind.
I watched as the
Japanese tourist, came to the rail, bowed at the waist then stood erect. He
said words that I heard but could not comprehend. Their tone and the look
on his face conveyed their meaning and I understood. His meaning was one of
confession, sorrow, hurt, honor, dignity, repentance and prayer. When he
had finished his quiet prayer, he gravely dropped his flowered wreath down
into the seawater, the same dark seawater from which the minister escaped.
As he watched as the wreath floated away on the tide.
This tourist of foreign birth struggled to keep formality, to keep face but his
tears betrayed him as a soldier, perhaps a warrior of the air, whose own bombs tore
through our young and sank their lives. He came, it struck me, on a pilgrimage of
repentance, not to the government of these Untied States, but to the grave of these
young men whose lives had been taken in the name of war. Stepping backward one
pace, the Japanese veteran then bowed, very deeply, very slowly. With eyes closed
he stood tall. Then he turned to rejoin his family.
Our minister veteran spoke on.
I thought I might have been the only American to witness his act. I was
wrong. As I watched his family leave, I noticed another American, wearing a red
VFW wind breaker, a WWII vet himself on a pilgrimage. He stood, hat in his hand.
As the family walked by him, he stepped out, away from the wall on which he had
leaned, into the path blocking their way.
For a moment, tension rose. Then the American snapped to attention, strong,
straight backed and ridged, raising his right hand, slowly, stiffly to his forehead. He
saluted his once and former enemy.
The Japanese tourist, deep in thoughts and memories, stopped short. Surprise
and sorrow mixed on his face. His family, eyes on the ground, stopped abruptly. The
American remained in salute until the Japanese man, with understanding, returned the
salute. There they stood, tourists passing by, conversations continuing all around.
These two men stood alone in their shared pain, shared glories and honors, and
memories and in their new reconciliation. The American slowly lowered his arm
and formally stepped backward one pace, remaining at attention. The tourist, when
his arms were at his side, bowed formally, once again. To my surprise, the American
returned the honor. Neither said a word. Neither had to. Their ridged faces, wet with
tears, expressed what neither could have ever said to the other in words.
And almost as suddenly as their encounter had begun it was over."
These two men found a peace they had not previously encountered and they found it at
the Memorial of a terrible day in the history of both their countries. In some way, they also recognized truth that although we must begin with ourselves, unless all have peace, none have peace.
As we receive Holy Communion today, make this a beginning of a new reconciliation.
This week, look for ways you can participate in reconciliation and peace, in yourself, in this community, for the healing of our nation, for the healing of the world.