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Holy Week Devotional: Mar 31

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Today’s Texts: Psalm 70; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Hebrews 12:1-3; John 13:21-32

“Peace of Bread” (John 13:21-32)

It is easy to point at the other, instead of looking at ourselves. However, Holy Week is a time when we, as individuals and as a society, take responsibility for what we have done and said before, without blaming others. Each of today’s scripture readings describes the virtues of Christianity, some of which seem almost   forgotten in our ostensibly Christian society.

In John 13:22, Jesus declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”   The disciples look at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. They were looking for someone who was going to betray Jesus. In this chapter, Judas was the person who would betray Jesus directly. However, in a broad sense, all of the disciples betrayed Jesus on his way to the cross, by denying, avoiding, or   neglecting the life and purpose of Jesus. How easy it is for one to see another person’s mistake, to cast blame on others, while hiding or denying the truth about oneself. The bad news in this story is, it is not about Judas alone, but about every disciple who betrayed Jesus, intentionally or unintentionally, by commission or by omission. The Good News is, they were all welcomed at Jesus’ table.

In Matthew’s telling (26:14) Judas betrayed Jesus before the Last Supper. Judas was being paid pieces silver as the other disciples received pieces of bread from Jesus. But according to John (13:30) Judas was with Jesus for the breaking of the bread and received a piece from Jesus before he went out. He, too, was included among Jesus’ beloved. Surely, for imperfect disciples like us, this is a more hopeful telling.

“A piece of bread” reminds me of Japanese Christian activist, Shozo Tanaka. Tanaka Shozo (1841-1913) is widely acknowledged as Japan’s “first conservationist.” Although he was a politician, he took off his legislator’s lapel pin, struggled with the people of Yanaka village against the Ashio Copper Mine’s pollution of the Watarase and Tone Rivers, northwest of Tokyo. Many Christians, including women of the Japanese Temperance Union supported him through his years of struggle. When he passed away, people discovered that all he had in his pocket were a few stones and a Bible. No pieces of silver, just the life of Jesus in his heart, I think.

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“Awakening leadership” (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

In Isaiah 50:4-6, the prophet prophesies God’s word so that the weary may be sustained. In 50:1-3 the prophet says that God was waiting for human society to turn to him. The many problems current in his time were not God’s purpose, but consequences of what human beings did. Yet, God told the prophet to prophesy that God was ready to help them. The prophetic leader was the one who listened for God’s word upon awakening each morning. However, being a prophet was a risky business. The prophetic leader had to stand in front of people who tried to humiliate prophetic work. There was no guarantee that the prophet could avoid adversity and ridicule. In this respect Isaiah’s prophetic work resembled that of Jesus.

I met a minister who came from the Philippines and has been serving in our denomination for a long time. For several years he served a Japanese-Canadian congregation. One day, when I learned that his father had been killed by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War, I asked how he could serve Japanese Canadians. He responded that he decided to forgive, as Jesus did him. He decided to follow the example of Jesus.

However, some ministers expressed difficulty with his desire to be “Christ-like.” This minister, who had found the strength to forgive Japanese through his faith in Jesus’ example, was considered by some to be “too evangelical; not liberal like us.” When I saw how this minister’s “Christ-like” way aroused suspicion, I found  myself wondering what it means to be a church leader today.

In today’s society, many of the Christian virtues appear to be lost, or terribly distorted; like humility, peace-making, love, unity, faith, truth, hope and joy. I wonder how many congregations or ministers are struggling with conflict, discord, doubt, error, despair, sadness and darkness. Is there fear of talking about the Bible among followers of liberal theology? Do the prevailing winds of secular society – or triumphal patriotism, depending on where you live – cause members of our faith community to fear being faithful, humble, merciful, hopeful, joyous, reconciling, a seeker of truth, or an advocate of peace?

I sometimes feel an odd disconnect when I hear misgivings being voiced about church leaders who were trained outside of Canada because I have come to know how faithful they are. They have a deep passion for mission, are kind, love their community and the church, and are very hard-working, regardless of how “liberal” or “conservative” they might be on individual points of theology.

Again, how could we keep holding a peace of bread that was given by Christ, when we live, work, preach and all through our lives? Although it might be risky for us to continue prophetic work, Jesus’ life, His love, His broken body is for each and every one of us.  No exceptions.

For more information about Tanaka Shozo, click this link. You may also be interested in this book: Kenneth Strong, Ox Against the Storm: A Biography of Tanaka Shozo: Japans Conservationist Pioneer (Classic Paperbacks)

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Maki FushiiRev. Maki Fushii has been an ordained minister since 1993. She was minister of the Vancouver Japanese United Church (2004-2008) and is currently Program Coordinator for Minority Ethnic Ministry and Leadership Development in the Intercultural & Diverse Communities in Ministry Unit of the United Church of Canada General Council Office. She is member of Canadian Council of Churches Human Trafficking Study Group. Former campus minister and human rights counselor at International Christian University in Tokyo (1997-2002). She has worked closely with Asian ecumenical partners as women’s and children’s rights advocate through National Christian Council in Japan in the early 1990s.

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