Originally posted April 19, 2010, at Faith in Community. Republished with permission of the author.
Christianity came to Japan long ago, brought by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries, Jesuits and Franciscans. Though many people were suspicious, there emerged a small but devoted following of Christ-followers.
But the suspicion grew, and finally Christianity was outlawed. Most of the missionaries were banished or fled.
Those suspected of being Christian were required to renounce their faith. They were to step on a picture of Mary or Jesus, called a fumie, as a sign of their rejection of Jesus and the church.
Some did; many refused to step on the fumie, and many were tortured and killed.
Shusaku Endo tells the story of this time in his novel Silence. A foreign priest narrates the story of his faith, his weakness, his decision to come to Japan, trying to help the persecuted people to hold fast to their faith.
He tries to find out about a priest who has lost his faith and wonders what happened to him. The title refers to the silence of God at the time of the persecution.
The priest is asked to step on the fumie to renounce his faith, but, even though he is weak and has committed many sins as a priest and has failed many times in his duties, he refuses.
But the authorities do not torture him. Instead, they torture the people of his parish.
When he is brought before the authorities again, he says he hears the voice of Christ, telling him to go ahead and step on the fumie.
Christ bore the burden of sin, betrayal and denial before and will bear it again and again for us.
As we travel through Holy Week, I think about our steps through life and how often we step on the fumie, the image of Christ.
We do this whenever we deny or betray the image of God in our brothers and sisters, whenever we step on one another, whenever we trample on the poor.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
Find a link to Diane Roth’s blog Faith in Community at Lutheran Blogs.