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Transfiguration Liturgy offers moment of blessing to Lambeth Conference

Posted on: August 8, 1998 3:01 PM
Related Categories: Lambeth Conference 1998

by Katie Sherrod
Lambeth Conference Communications

A forgiving victim, a repentant church and an accident of timing combined in a moment of blessing for the Lambeth Conference.

It happened on the Feast of the Transfiguration, which fell on the day after the grueling debate on human sexuality, a debate marked, among other things, by the painful collision of vastly different worldviews.

Since the Transfiguration Eucharist also fell on the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, bishops of Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Holy Catholic Church in Japan) led the service.

The liturgy of reconciliation and forgiveness began as people entered the worship area and were handed a Statement on War Responsibility of Nippon Sei Ko Kai. With humility, the paper laid out in painful detail the ways the church had failed to live up to its Christian responsibility during World War II. Silence fell over the worship space as people began reading.

A statement of apology

"The Church had chosen to comply with the government policy and had forgotten its mission," the statement said. "Since its establishment, The Nippon Sei Ko Kai has been making compromises with the idea of a Tenno (God of Heaven) ruled nation and militarism which go against the Gospel and has not been able to resist strongly against, or refuse those principles . . . . Our Church has not been able to stand beside those who are oppressed and suffering. . . . We have been a closed Church whose main concern is the expansion of the membership and the retention of the institution, thus being unable to serve as the salt of the earth as indicated in the Gospel."

In the two-page statement, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai "confesses to God and apologizes to the people in Asia and the Pacific that we did not admit our fault immediately after the end of the war, and have not actively called for reconciliation and compensation until today."

Bishop John Takeda, Primate of Nippon Sei Ko Kai and Bishop of Tokyo, announced that the preacher would be the Rev. Canon Susan Cole-King, daughter of Leonard Wilson, the Bishop of Singapore, who was taken captive by the Japanese Army in 1943, and tortured for months. Then he called the assembly to worship by saying, "On 6 August 1945, the world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima."

"In our Eucharist today, while we remember the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we also remember the many people in Asia and throughout the world who became victims of the Japanese army, as well as all victims of all wars," he prayed. "May our Lord who revealed to his disciples the brilliant light of his transfigured presence, transfigured our world too, into a world where all may live in peace."

Finding a way to love

As she began her sermon, Canon Cole-King said that when she read the war responsibility statement, she felt "humbled and moved by its honesty and courage."

She described how her father often had to be carried back to the dark and filthy cell because he was almost unconscious, and how on one occasion seven men took turns flogging him.

"He asked himself then how he could possibly love these men with their hard, cruel faces, who were obviously enjoying the torture they were inflicting. As he prayed he had a picture of them as they might have been as little children, and it's hard to hate little children," she said.

But his prayer to find ways not to hate them was more powerfully answered by some words of a hymn which came into him mind: "Look, Father, look on his anointed face, and only look on us as found in him."

"In that moment he was given a vision of those men not as they were then, but as they were capable of becoming, transformed by the love of Christ . . . he experienced the grace of forgiveness at that moment," she said.

"Although he was able to forgive, and I and my family want to affirm that unconditional forgiveness, true reconciliation can only happen when there is an acknowledgement of wrongs done, when the truth is faced, and painful self-examination leads to confession and apology. I and my brothers here today want to say to our Japanese brothers and sisters a heartfelt thank-you for what you have done. The cycle of reconciliation is complete," she told the deeply moved gathering.

Personal transfiguration

But then she stunned the audience with a further revelation.

"My father's story is a transfiguration story, for himself and for his captors. After the war he returned to Singapore and had the great joy of confirming one of his torturers," she said, as gasps filled the hall.

"This is how he described the moment: 'One of these men who was allowed to march up from the prison to the cathedral, as a prisoner, to come for baptism, was one of those who had stood with a rope in his hand, threatening and sadistic. I have seldom seen so great a change in a man. He looked gentle and peaceful. His face was completely changed by the power of Christ,'" she said, as people in the congregation wept openly.

She spoke of her own wrestling with repentance for the fact that her nation dropped the bombs that killed 8,000 Christians instantly, and inflicted terrible suffering on the Japanese people.

"How necessary were those bombs? Why was a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki even as the Supreme Council of War was meeting in Tokyo to decide whether to surrender? Those bombs ended the war, but at what cost!" she said.

Her message of the power of God's indestructible beauty and the transforming power of God's love amidst the terrible destruction of war rang out with special meaning in a room where sat bishops and bishops' wives who live daily in the midst of civil war and terrorism.

The liturgy contained another moment of reciprocity. The celebrant confessed his sins, to which the congregation responded, "May Almighty God have mercy upon you, and forgive you all your sins." Then the congregation confessed, and the celebrant offered prayers of forgiveness for them. The liturgy ended with the hymn, "Make Me A Channel of You Peace."

Within hours, the debates of Lambeth would resume. But for at least a short time, the conference was transfigured by the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation.