Remembering September 11, 2001- Fr. Benedict Varnum
Every year, the Sunday after Labor Day, we celebrate our “Kickoff” Sunday at Saint Augustine’s. If a sacrament is an “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual graces,” then our Kickoff Sunday, with its picnic and good cheer, is our outward celebration. The inward grace is our loving and welcoming community, gathering around Christ’s Table and then the picnic table to celebrate.
This year our Kickoff Sunday has a second identity: it will also be the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. It’s strange to prepare our memorial prayers and music in honor of those we mourn and remember on the same day that we usually celebrate, but it’s also very much a part of what we’re called to together: we are a church for the hard times as well as the easy ones; the sorrows of life as well as the joys.
For me, one of the most powerful signs in all of scripture is that after being raised from the dead, Jesus was so glorious that his disciples sometimes didn’t even recognize him … yet he still had the marks of the crucifixion on his body.
Why does this matter? It matters because of what it means. Jesus had healed others of all manner of terrible injury and affliction, and had even raised Lazarus from death. Yet when Jesus himself left the empty tomb behind on the third day, he did not choose to return to us with fully healed hands and feet and side. I take this as a sign that Jesus doesn’t dismiss or forget his human suffering: he tells us that he knows what it is, and yet still gives us love, forgiveness, and the hope of eternal life.
It was thousands of years ago that Jesus faced a false trial, a cross, and a tomb. But on September 11, 2001, Christ’s Body – the beloved people of God – was attacked again. This time the false trial was in the minds of the terrorists, twisted by sin to believe that they should hate their neighbors.
We need to realize that Jesus really did experience something truly as terrible as this act – this is the sign to us that God truly understands the worst violence of human sin when God forgives us and promises us eternal life. The victims of September 11 were not as perfectly innocent as Jesus, but they were given a cross they did not deserve by those who attacked them. And God has given us the hope that after the cross comes not death, but life eternal.
September 11 placed marks on Christ’s Body again. This attack, like the Passion itself, cannot kill the Gospel, and cannot end God’s love. More importantly, death cannot end the lives of those who are lost forever, because they belong to God, and not any human power.
That doesn’t mean it hurts any less. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to mourn. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to work for a world in which terror is no longer so easy a temptation. But it does mean that we must proclaim all the louder Jesus’s teachings of God’s love, God’s grace, and the gift of eternal life – for these are the very things that will teach all the world to leave off of sin and violence, and choose life and love instead.
So we will gather on Sunday as Christ’s Body around Christ’s Table. We will offer our prayers. We will hear God’s Word and pray that God help us to resist temptation and better love our neighbors. And we will remember that it is loving community that truly overcomes the temptations of sin and terror. We will remember that it is the very proclamation of God’s love that shows people of every nation a way of life better than the way of sin and death. We will remember that God’s healing is offered to us that we might be a force for healing in the world. We will remember our call to comfort those who mourn. And we will give thanks that God has made a choice to love us and bring us to eternal life – a choice that we can never undo by any human act.
So let us gather again on Sunday, rejoicing in God and our fellowship, praying for those we have lost, and looking to grow into the lives Jesus shows us, that we might be part of the healing and hope Jesus offers the world.