It’s been 15 years since 19 men trained by al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and smashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people, more than 400 of them first responders.
It’s been 15 years of war and fear.
That image of those two towers burning, falling — it’s etched on our minds. Struggling to see through the blinding dust of rubble, we wondered: Can anything good come after such evil? Can I ever feel anything again other than this pain and rage?
“Because of this,” the prophet Jeremiah writes, “the earth shall mourn, and the heavens grow black.”
In that same text (Jeremiah 4), we hear God’s heart breaking. When you love someone completely, as God loves us, you open yourself up to the possibility of incredible pain.
This is part of the good news. And it’s a weird part. We don’t usually think of God’s suffering and anger as something to be thankful for. But it is indeed good news to know that we are not alone, that the Creator of all things shouts and cries and bangs their fist with ours. It is good news to know that, in our raw moments of pain, God does not silence our anger.
How many of us did not feel the same rage, the same despair, the same desire for vengeance after 9/11?
God validates those feelings, but also asks that we not get stuck there.
I’ve read that in Los Angeles, there are days when the smog is so thick that you can’t see anything but what’s right in front of you. And for a time, you can think there’s nothing beyond that smog — that this is just now your life, your world. But when that smog lifts, on a clear day, you can see those beautiful mountains on the horizon. You can see that there is more to the world, and to life, than what’s right in front of you.
I think hope is a lot like that. There are days when you can’t believe it exists, you hurt so badly. But then you get a glimpse, and it’s hard to know how you didn’t see it before.
Into that pain walks Jesus Christ, who endures the same violence and feels the same despair, but walks beyond it, in resurrection, a sign of the love that will triumph and the life that awaits.
At first, it might seem like the angry God described by Jeremiah and the merciful God presented in Jesus Christ can’t be the same God. But then we realize that we’re just hearing from God at different points in God’s, and our, journey through grief.
Grief includes anger and despair, but such is not, in the words of the prophet, the end. There is so much more waiting for us.
We’ve gotten glimpses of it in the last 15 years: moments of laughter and family, of friends and good food. We’ve even seen justice and goodness prevail on occasion.
But it’s in church, where we gather in peaceful community to worship and be fed by God, that we really see it.
On the first Sunday after 9/11, the people of New York City gathered at Riverside Church for an interfaith service of healing. Muslims worshiped alongside Christians, Jews alongside Hindus. A pastor spoke, but so did two Muslim imams, a Jewish rabbi, and a Buddhist minister. The people that day heard prayers in Arabic, Hebrew, English and Japanese.
Rabbi Lester Bronstein’s words rang out, “We must believe that this bridge of life becomes ever wider and safer when thousands of us gather, across all the lines and definitions that divide us, to become the agents of God’s goodness.”
So here it is, the hope upon which all hangs: In Jesus Christ, God made the decision we could not. We answered 9/11 with war and fear. God answered with Jesus Christ, with the self-sacrifice of love.
And as the recipients of that gift, we too are invited to see beyond doom, beyond death itself… to embrace compassion and to see, when the skies clear, that the cross is empty and the stone rolled away. Remember Sept. 11, but don’t get stuck there. Be a people who see beyond.