“This was all that was left intact,” said my mother-in-law showing me a small and very delicate teacup and saucer complete with a hand-written note by her father telling its story. Although the saucer was burnt you could still make out the delicate, typically Japanese pattern, through the charred surface. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and there wasn’t a chip on it.
I was having a cup of tea with my mother-in-law and her sister and they were telling me about their father, who had joined the Navy at an early age and served in both World Wars, surviving the Battle of Jutland in the First World War and being torpedoed in the Second World War. Between the wars he had travelled extensively with the Navy rising to the rank of ‘Chief Yeoman of the Signals.’ In 1923 his ship docked in Yokohama harbour just days before the massive ‘Great Kanto’ earthquake. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.9 on the moment magnitude scale. It caused massive, widespread destruction and loss of life. Extensive firestorms and even a fire whirl added to the death toll. It was during a search and rescue operation of a local pottery factory that their father came across this burnt but completely intact teacup and saucer, the only thing amongst the rubble to have survived unbroken. I felt a huge wave of emotion looking at this charred but beautiful little teacup and saucer and what it must have meant to a man searching the rubble for survivors of one of the worst natural catastrophes of the 20th century …. and to his children who had cherished it all this time, now in their late 80’s, sitting at the table with me. Years later his children implored him to write down his stories, but their father refused saying, ‘some stories are best left untold.’ The story of the little teacup remains the only story written down and recorded by their father.
It made me think of the Israelites cast into exile and Jerusalem devastated behind them. I thought of all those broken people and shattered lives. Of their tears and sorrow, their pain and loneliness. God must have seemed very far away. When life comes tumbling down it can be hard to see God’s hand in the middle of the devastation and suffering. Our thoughts spiral downwards, ‘Does God really care?’ ‘Is He really there?’ It is hard to lift our eyes heavenward - our sorrow and sadness, pain and brokenness feel overwhelming. Anger and frustration can consume us, in apathy and dejectedness we finally give up and agree with the atheists; ‘God doesn’t really exist.’ Depression sets in.
“The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem; he gathers Israel’s exiled people. He heals the broken-hearted and bandages their wounds.” Psalm 147:2-3 (CSB)
Yet in our deepest distress God gives us a glimmer of hope. It might not be so spectacular as finding manna in the dessert or delivering Daniel from the Lion’s den, but He provides rescue in other ways. The neighbour who pops round to see if we’re ok. The kindness of a friend. The love of a relative. A bible verse which gives comfort and reassurance. The pleasure of seeing snowdrops and aconites surfacing in the depths of winter and the lengthening of the days as we enter Spring. The little intact teacup amidst a pile of rubble and brokenness. He provides us with something to hold onto in the here and now when there seems to be no light……
“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 (NIV)