By Rev. Prof. Renta Nishihara
When the great earthquake took place on 11 March, I was at the university. My bookshelves were falling, lights were swaying wildly. Turning on a TV, I saw a great tsunami about to swallow up some people. The city’s public transport at Tokyo was paralyzed, so we opened up the university campus of Rikkyo for the public. I spent the night at the university together with about 5,000 people. The following morning, it was becoming clear that we were faced with a situation that far outstripped any words. We were experiencing that lamentation that the Psalmist felt as he faced intense hardship, so that his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, not even able to pray to God.
One woman’s testimony still rings in my ears. As she was making her way to high ground, running from the great tsunami, she looked back; a number of elementary school students were crying out, running desperately. But when she looked back again, the children had vanished. One boy was going among the evacuation centers with a piece of cardboard on which he had written the name of his parent and his brothers and sisters. As we face this reality, all that is left to us is a dazed silence.
And then, in addition to the earthquake and the tsunami, we were gripped by an additional fear: fear due to the explosion of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as they went out of control and spread abroad concentrated radioactivity. The Japanese scholars would tell us that these levels were “at levels that would not affect the human body” , but the thing which I have learned when I was a student of the department of technology at Kyoto University is that there is no radioactivity that does not have influence in a human body.
Actually, four years ago, these Fukushima plants were brought up in the Diet as the possible site of a hideous accident produced by loss of coolants, should there be a Chile-like tsunami. In this sense, the accident at this reactor can be termed entirely man-made in nature. We should remember those people who have offered up themselves in the effort to wrest control of the situation, even as fierce radioactive rays rain down on them. One can only imagine what their families are thinking as they follow the events.
One after another, messages of encouragement have been coming in to me, sent by brothers and sisters around the world, who are linked to me through the Anglican Communion and other international Christian networks. According to Rev. Terrie Robinson, a secretary at the Anglican Communion Office, within the first 30 hours after the earthquake, hundreds of emails with encouragement and prayer had been delivered from various parts of the world.
The parishioners and clergies of the dioceses of Tohoku and Kita Kanto, along with all those who suffered this disaster, are still in extreme hardship and distress. But they are not the only ones; all of us sense a terror deeper than words. However, we are not alone. Our sisters and brothers throughout the world sense this pain together with us, feel the pain in their very bowels, and hold on to our hand and will not let us go, praying with a prayer that is a veritable shout.
In this very moment, our faith is being questioned. Didn’t the risen Jesus give strength to Mary and the others as they shivered, saying “do not be afraid”? The name given by God to the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, who changed despair to eternal life, is the name “Emmanuel.” That name’s meaning is “Lord is with us.”
Amid the rubble of the devastated areas, there was a young boy who was gritting his teeth as he walked, holding a large container full of water in both hands. He was moving through the hopelessness of that rubble, yet moving forward with hope, the hope of life itself. With him, with all those who have been afflicted in this disaster, with each and every one of us, the resurrected Lord is walking as he did on that road to Emmaus, bringing warmth to our hearts.
This year’s Easter will be a very special Lord’s day. It will be a precious time when we take a new step toward hope, like a small shoot growing up amidst the rubble. Amen.
The author is Vice-President, Rikkyo University (Anglican University), Priest of the Anglican Church in Japan (NSKK), and Member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC)