Sunday, September 11, 2011

Of Remembering

Exodus 14: 19-31
9/11 Memorial
Within days, maybe even within hours of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, makeshift memorials began to appear.  A flag here, a bouquet there, a roadside box sheltering a candle, a flag tacked on a board with the words, “We Remember” boldly painted on it.  Even at Ground Zero a massive, charred fire engine became a memorial with flowers and flags adorning the once clear and shiny windshield.  Words of remembrance and the names of fallen firefighters were written in the pulverized concrete and ashes that covered the vehicle. 

And at Bellevue Hospital, the Wall of Hope spontaneously grew with name after name and photo after photo of missing loved ones; how reminiscent this makeshift memorial was of the Viet Nam Veterans War Memorial.  Like “The Wall”, people came to see and honor those who were missing and eventually were pronounced dead.  And while the rubble still smoldered it became a place where people came and wept and prayed.  It became a sanctuary of comfort and peace for some, a place to be near their loved one.  And to grieve the unthinkable.

Today at Ground Zero the 9/11 Memorial is being dedicated with families in attendance of the men and women who died at the World Trade Center, Shanksville, PA or the Pentagon.  Tomorrow, 9/12 it will be open to the public.  This approximately 8 acres, is hallowed ground because Ground Zero is a place where blood was shed, dreams vanquished, and families severed at the hands of a few.    

Memorials are a story of a people.  In the US they tell stories of perseverance, triumph and renewal of the tenets of democracy, and they are places of reconciliation. They are also a place of rebuilding and hope because we are the sole witnesses to tell the story of life and death, of surprise and horror, of the worst of humanity and the best of humanity and memorials are our books.

A person stands on a sacred threshold at a memorial, it is the convergence of remembering the past, engaging the present and then re-membering or re-configuring the future.

At the threshold people work through feelings of fear, shock, horror, anger, grief and loss, pride, reconciliation, and national identity.  Today particularly we remember that our lives had been dismantled; our ethics, and theological understanding had been tested and stretched.

We are a people built upon remembering
As Christians our present is built upon the past, of remembering promises made to Abraham and Sarah, of remembering how God brought the people of Israel out of bondage.  Our scripture today reminds us that God protected the Israelites with a pillar of cloud in front of them and behind them.  It reminds us that God provided a leader who was up to the task of stretching out his hand to part the waters for them and it reminds us that God gave them dry land to walk toward their future when they were in hot pursuit by their enemies.    

We also remember the night in which Jesus was betrayed, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the saving grace of God because it is here that we can rebuild our lives and find comfort and salvation in the words, “We Remember.”  In remembering how God saved others before us we are saved from destruction and are given the light by which to see the future.  Our Christian heritage is rich with sacred symbols that we can draw on and interpret the suffering and hope of our common humanity; of which we can interpret the loss of life on 9/11.

Memory is import
Memory is important.  It grounds us in the reality of our living that each day is built upon the former day, both the mistakes we have made and the good things that we have done.  Memory helps us to know where we have come from and where we have been so that we, with the totality of our experiences, can step into the future.  9/11 is important to lift up because through it we see and experience the loving grace of God and the way in which God had a hand in the salvation of humanity at that given time and place.  God was with us and helped up sort through the rubble of our lives.

Today, both collectively and individually we know the significance of the attacks and the impact that it has made upon us.  Some of us know more than others if we lost someone we loved when the towers crumbled.  We know that war followed and many more lives were sacrificed.  We know that there are people who still hurt because they re-live the tragedy and the post stress of the trauma each day of their lives.  We know that many more young people need education about 9/11 because for them it wasn’t a part of their lives but is a legacy in their lives.  We know that God was with us then and God is certainly with us now. 

Beyond Memory
On September 11 we saw the worst that humanity can produce and the best of what humanity can offer.  Hatred, prejudice, alienation, contempt, revenge were all present on 9/11.  But also, there was bravery, courage, love, moral character and a willingness to help and save were present too.  Not only were they present, they had the final say over this evil atrocity.  Each and every action we take has a consequence, our choices can destroy or lift up and we know that the goodness of people is much greater than the evil that exists.  God enabled people to see good then and will help us vision a world of goodness and peace.  We are a people of hope. 

So what is our work today, 10 years later?

Our job today
Our work today is to remember.  We remember the people whose deaths came prematurely and tragically and we remember their families who mourn their passing.  We remember also that there were people who acted quickly, boldly, bravely and decently, who reached out to their fellow human being in love. 

Our work today is to know and believe that God was with us on September 11, 2001.  God has never forgotten us or ignored us but was there in the planes, in the towers and pentagon, in the rubble, in the lives that were thrown into despair and hopelessness.  God was there receiving these lives into peace. 

Our work today is to witness.  It is to tell their stories and our collective story of tragedy and deliverance by a God who loves us.  It is to witness the love of God because the events of 9/11, ten years later has become part of our salvation story.

Our work today is to affirm the precious life and relationships we have and to love, to foregive, to accept that we are God’s beleoved.
Written into the mission statement of the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero is a benediction that I’ll share with you. 

“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.”[i]

Our work is to step into the future with God in our hearts, hope in our very being, justice on our lips, and the knowledge that their lives will be remembered and inform ours for many years to come.

[i] 9/11 Memorial Website,

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