For as long as you or I shall live, September 11, 2001 will be a day forever etched in our memory. It has been called, “The worst terrorist attack on American soil, even in the modern history of the world.”
Over three thousand people have perished. Who can ever forget the horrific images of that day? Smoke, flames and ash billowing up in the sky, darkening the southern skyline of Manhattan. The twin towers collapsing like a child’s structure made of blocks, not tons of concrete and steel. Final cell phone conversations on a doomed airliner to a mother, “mom, I want you to know if I don’t make it out alive, how much I love you.” To a spouse from a smoke-filled office; “honey, I want you to know how much I love you and the kids.” We will never forget the collective nightmare we have shared.
It is seared on our minds forever. The we have endured evokes a range of responses in us – shock, numbness. We feel anger. Rage. Hatred. Fear. Anxiety. Binding all the confusion and fury together is an unremitting, chocking grief. A grief that falls heavy on our hearts like that horrible concrete soot that blankets southern Manhattan.
We seek answers, but there are none that satisfy, none that can exonerate us from the heavy burden of spiritual, emotional and mental grief and pain we carry. If we are not careful, loss can make us hard, nasty and hateful, as reflected in the taunts hurled at a Muslim woman walking in Brooklyn or in the hate messages that are being left in many Islamic and Arab-American centers around the nation.
Loss can make us even more rigid, shut down or suspicious, more convinced than ever to cling to the status quo. Loss can render us so powerless that all we have left are visions and dreams of another world. We currently have no shortage of end-time prophets identifying Asama bin Landen as the Antichrist or seeing in the events of the past week the beginning of Armageddon - the war of the last days. Sustained loss, unless addressed can devolve into violence and warfare. Armed conflict, in some form or another, we are assured by President Bush, is imminent.
This will be the first major war, we are told, of the 21st century. How do we begin to handle loss? There’s a story about a woman who lost her beloved only child and fervently prayed to God to restore her child to life. God answered her prayer, saying her child would be spared if she could find one house, just one house, where tragedy hasn’t struck. Eagerly the woman canvassed her country, up and down, back and forth. To her amazement, she found not one house where loss was not a familiar inhabitant. She returned, although she still grieved for her child, her spirit was changed. Entering into the sorrow of others began the transformation of her own sorrow.
We have lost so much in these past few days. But the loss we bear can open us to recognize that our pain is part of the pain that is shared by so many in the world on a daily basis. It is the pain of the world that God entered into in the incarnation of Jesus in human flesh. Because of this, we are reminded that all around the world, millions live in a constant sense of vigilance. We are reminded that we share with others who endure long lines, inconveniences, and shortages of basic necessities. There are those for whom the disruption of services like phone, light clean water is a fact of life. There are countless left stranded. Left without work or home. Or who come home to find love ones disappeared or murdered.
There are millions in our world who sympathize with our sufferings, as our pain awakens us to their plight. There is a saying, of a student who asks the rabbi, “why does it say in the scripture that the Law should be written on the heart?” Because the Rabbi responds, when the heart breaks, the law falls in. Not the law in the legalistic sense of the term. But the law as distilled in by the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God?” It is the Law that is distilled by the teachings and words of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul, body and strength , and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.; and in the commandment Jesus gave: Love one another as I have loved you.”
Our loss has broken our hearts, but our brokenness can be the soil in which the gospel of Jesus takes root and God’s strength becomes visible. This is happening. In the worldwide outpouring of support and care. In the firefighter who risked his life to reenter one of the towers because his buddy was trapped. In the coworkers who carried down a handicapped employee down dozens of flights of stairs rather than leave him stranded. In the five hour wait to donate blood. In the doctors and nurses and others who are freely volunteering their time. In the deluge of donations to assist. In the employers who are determined to keep employee on the payroll until they have other secure work or committed to provide for the families of deceased employees.
So much kindness and bravery that resulted in response to evil. In our darkest, bleakest hour, Light has triumphed and refuses to be extinguished. We can honor those people who perished by imitating their last acts. They did not speak out with self-pity. They did not speak with hate or bitterness. Instead they reached out and left messages meant to console, to encourage, to affirm love and life. We can honor them by not letting hate or revenge conquer us.
Let us affirm life. Let us remember in the difficult days ahead the poem of the World War II resistance fighter, Karl Loes. The poem was found on the walls of the hidden cellar where the Nazis murdered Loes and others dedicated to freedom:
"I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
I believe in love, even when no one’s there
I believe in God, even when God is silent
I believe through any trial there is always a way.
But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair My heart cries for shelter To know someone’s there But a voice rises with me
Hold on, my child I’ll give you strength. I’ll give you hope. Just stay a while."
Hold on, children, hold on. Jesus is there. And so are many others. As we weep. As we rage. As we begin the hard work to seek a response, to rebuild and restore.. Hold on for justice, not just for ourselves but for all people. Carried on the shoulders of Jesus, in his strength, a new way will be found. Amen.