The Fifteenth Anniversary of the September 11 Attacks
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church – Wilmette, Illinois
You remember. You do, don’t you? You remember where you were, fifteen years ago right now.
I invite you into your own memory of that day: September 11, 2001. I invite us all to pause, in silence, to remember.
What I remember is driving home at the end of that day, after struggling throughout the day, together with my high school students, to take in the news, to try and understand any piece of what had happened, much less why. What I remember about that day was that every house along our street had a front porch. And by the time I drove home at the end of that day fifteen years ago, every porch on my street had an American flag flying from it. And it felt like prayer.
What I remember, in the days that followed immediately afterwards, was looking out the window in my classroom or at home, looking up at the sky, and wondering when I would see a plane flying out there again. In the immediate future, and in the future that stretched ahead of us, I wondered who and what we might become.
John Ohmer is an Episcopal priest, a friend of mine and the rector of The Falls Church in Virginia. This week as he wrote about remembering the occasion of this fifteenth anniversary, he said: “When we remember, we not only recall, but we participate in God’s saving actions – actions designed to (give hope) in the face of relentless, merciless evil.”
Isn’t that what we do at our altar every week? Much more than some kind of historical recitation, through mystery that defies our comprehension, couldn’t we claim that as we hear again: “take, eat, this is my body…drink this, all of you…do this for the remembrance of me…” – are we not also making the audacious claim of participating in God’s saving actions?
The tax collectors and sinners can’t stay away from Jesus in today’s gospel lesson. They get closer and closer so they can hear what he has to say as he teaches. The scribes and the Pharisees, used to being the ones closest to whoever is the esteemed teacher in a crowd, have trouble with this. Maybe they feel threatened by having to be so near to people who usually keep themselves at a distance from folks like Pharisees and scribes. Maybe they’re just a little upset at the scandal of having to share space, of not being held aside as special. Whatever it is, the Pharisees and the scribes grumble: “This fellow welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”
In response, Jesus tells two parables: first, the story of the lost sheep, searched for and found and carried home over the shoulder of a rejoicing shepherd. The second, a woman carefully seeking a lost coin – when she finds it she gathers her friends for a party to celebrate.
“Rejoice with me!” the shepherd says.
“Rejoice with me!” the woman says.
“For I have found what was lost.”
So much has been lost in these last fifteen years. We have lost a great deal, through wars and rumors of wars, lost privacy in the name of security, lost trust among neighbors and between nations.
When a nation that has not known itself as vulnerable sees its vulnerability manifested by crashing planes and crumbling towers, we can become forgetful. More fractured, less connected. More isolated, less hospitable. More fearful…less generous.
“This fellow welcomes sinners, and eats with them,” the Pharisees and the scribes grumble.
But something else is waiting to be found, these fifteen years later. Something more, I trust and believe, is very near to us on this anniversary.
I have heard a number of news stories in recent days, as I imagine you have, too, about the September 11 attacks. So much loss and pain and devastation. Such excruciating beauty at the stories of people helping each other, sometimes at the cost of their own lives; of people calling the people they love best, assuring them that everything would be alright – only to discover later that it would not, stories of people calling the people they love best, to say goodbye.
I heard something else, though, too – something that seems to hunger to be found. In the span of an hour, this past Friday morning, from five seemingly disparate segments: from the woman who had served as chair of the senate intelligence committee, to a candidate seeking elected office, to the CEO of Starbucks, to a hiphop artist named MIA, to the president of Union Seminary, writing for Time magazine – I heard again and again and again and again and again the unwillingness to be defined only by what has been lost. I heard a rejection of the notion that what is wrong and broken will have the final word.
“We need a new narrative,” I heard the former senator say.
“We need good news,” I heard the CEO say.
We need to remember who we are, I say to you now.
Because we have that narrative, in the gospel that is our good news. And as we remember it, as we put the words of that gospel into practice, we do the very thing that my friend John Ohmer was talking about in his writing this week. As we remember the good news of who we are as a people, we participate in God’s saving actions.
Remember: the occasion we celebrate every Sunday at our Holy Eucharist is the occasion of God’s greatest vulnerability. Resurrection is victory because death is real, and to deny that is to forget the weighty blessing of God’s promise.
Living into the gospel means allowing ourselves to be found by the God who searches for us with the diligence of a woman holding her lamp, with the tender strength of a shepherd who would carry us across his shoulder, all the way home. The narrative that is our gospel is a story of defiant hope.
Remember: God calls us to participate in holy and saving acts. As we are right now, as we do together, Sunday by Sunday in prayer at this space and in the times between Sundays outside of this space, as we will at the end of our time together today, lifting our voices to sing these words:
O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
til by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.
Yes. This fellow welcomes sinners, and welcomes us to eat with him. May it be so, in the trusted promise of that day when he finds us, lifts us up, and cries out: “Rejoice with me, for I have found what was lost!” and there will be joy in the presence of the angels.
 Hymnal 1982: 59