"Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other." - Psalm 85:10
It was a sultry August morning, one of those Sundays when I am amazed that anyone shows up for worship in our un-air-conditioned sanctuary. But the regulars were there, God bless them, along with a group of visiting scholars from Japan.
By the time we got to the sharing of joys and concerns, the backs of our ancient wooden pews had become tacky to the touch. We were ready to get out of there, but our Japanese guests had something to say.
The elder of the group began to share—in Japanese. He would speak a sentence or two, and then an interpreter would translate. Full minutes passed. Church members began to shift in their seats, desperate to get out of those sticky pews. Still, the man went on. I was just about to cut him off (politely), when he spoke two words in English: Pearl Harbor.
Everyone snapped to attention. We eagerly awaited the translation, which went something like this: "It is with great sorrow and pain that we ask your forgiveness for our nation's attack on Pearl Harbor."
Have you ever heard 100 people gasp in unison? Have you ever been broken open by another's vulnerability? Have you ever realized, in one sudden, come-from-nowhere, sucker-punch moment, that we carry within us the capacity to heal one another's wounds?
On behalf of the congregation, I extended our forgiveness, adding that we needed to seek their pardon. For Hiroshima. For Nagasaki. For the unfathomable suffering of the Japanese people. Could they ever forgive us?
They could, and they did. We bowed to one another in humility and peace. And suddenly even the air felt lighter.
Because I never know when or how you'll show up, O God, keep bringing me back to those uncomfortable pews. Prepare my heart for a peace I didn't even know I needed. Amen.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.