One of the resource books we use in planning worship is called Sundays and Seasons, published by Augsburg Fortress. It is a comprehensive collection of prayers, lessons, ideas and images, and suggestions for hymns, choral and instrumental music. For this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany (February 5th), we will be commemorating the Martyrs of Japan.
Apparently the Christian faith was introduced to Japan by Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century, and they estimate that there were over 300,000 Japanese Christians by the end of the century. However, Christianity was suppressed due to a number of circumstances, and 26 Japanese were martyred for their faith in 1597. Christians then went underground for 250 years, until missionaries returned to Japan.
A number of years ago, I had the fortune to visit the Tokyo Lutheran Church while on business, and I attended a Sunday service during the Advent season. I was so impressed that the influence of Martin Luther is wide and far-reaching! And that was because I recognized so many elements of the service even though I didn’t speak any Japanese. I remember the organist played Bach’s “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” as the prelude and the opening hymn was “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland,” sung in Japanese, of course! (The person sitting next to me must have thought I was crazy because I just sang the hymns on “loo” instead of the words! But at least I was familiar with all the German chorale tunes.) The organ was built by Karl Schuke of Berlin and I felt very much at home — except for the Japanese language, of course.
When Carl Crosier and I travel, we always try to attend a local church and we have no trouble following the service — whether in Venezuela, or Germany, or France, or Norway, or wherever. We are all one faith.