Remembrance of 9-11-01
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 11, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! . . . She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks.” This poem might very easily be talking about New York City in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that happened ten years ago today. Many of us remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Then we watched a day like no other unfold before us as a second plane hit the towers, another crashed into the Pentagon, and a final aircraft was downed in a Pennsylvania field. But the words of this poem were written over 2500 years ago, in 586 B.C., by the prophet Jeremiah. They are the opening words of the Book of Lamentations where Jeremiah mourns the loss of not just a city, Jerusalem, but an entire nation as well.
God’s people are a people who remember. But why remember national tragedies? Why remember battles from our wars—Lexington and Concord, Yorktown, Gettysburg, the Bulge, Normandy? Why remember things like the Great Depression or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger? And why take the time on a Sunday morning, of all things, to remember terror attacks on September 11, a decade ago? Because we are a people who remember.
Jeremiah remembered the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the invading Babylonian army. He remembered what once was and what was lost. “The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan. . . . Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and wandering all the precious things that were hers from days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the foe, and there was none to help her, her foes gloated over her; they mocked at her downfall.” (1:4, 7) Sounds eerily similar to the events of 9/11, doesn’t it? Remember bin Laden praising the terror attacks? Remember his mocking our nation and our people?
Jeremiah then wrote these words, “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.” (1:16) When tragedy strikes, we cry. We weep for those whose lives are senselessly lost. We weep for those who selflessly give up their lives to save others. We mourn with victims’ families and friends. We lament as a nation and as the Church because God’s people are a people who remember.
And what we remember is history, more properly articulated as HIS-story. All of history is God’s-story. The German language has a great word that emphasizes this aspect. The word is heilsgeschichte. Literally it means “holy history,” but using Merriam-Webster’s definition, heilsgeschichte is “an interpretation of history emphasizing God’s saving acts and viewing Jesus Christ as central in redemption.” It is a word usually applied to God’s saving acts in the Old Testament (like the Exodus) and His ultimate saving act in the New Testament, the death and resurrection of Jesus. But what is important to remember is that God is a God of history. It is, after all, HIS-story.
This is a truth that I learned very early on in college. My major for the Bachelor of Arts degree was history. But it was never history for its own sake or simply because I liked it. History is more than a hobby. In my understanding, proper history is the retelling of what actually happened and it is best viewed through the lens of Holy Scripture in how God continues to tell His story.
We read in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” As “His-storians” it is necessary to remember that we are not privy to all the “whys” and “hows” of history. What we know of God’s interactions in history are only recorded in the Bible. We know from the Bible how God acted against Pharaoh and the Egyptians to free the children of Israel from bondage. We know that it was punishment against Israel’s sin that God allowed the Assyrians and the Babylonians to lead the people into captivity. We know what God’s Word tells us and we dare not say more than God’s Word says.
For example, “God allowed the terror attacks of 9/11 as punishment for the sins of America and the people involved.” Maybe or maybe not. We don’t have a Word from God in the Bible that says one way or another. Therefore we don’t make an assertion like this at all. We don’t know why 9/11. We don’t know why the Holocaust. We don’t know why Hurricane Katrina. We don’t know why this tsunami or that earthquake or famine. Yet we remember these things because they are part of God’s-story.
We heard in our Epistle lesson today the wonderful words of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Tragedies happen because the world and people are totally messed up by sin—from the weather on down to people. We are not privy to the deep thoughts of God as to why He allows the effects of sin to wreak their havoc on us. But what we do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is His faithfulness to His people whom He has saved and redeemed from sin through the sacrificial death of His only Son, Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, there isn’t a single tragedy or suffering that is worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us who believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior!
When we remember 9/11, or another major (or even minor) event in history, we remember how God has been faithful to His Church, to His people, even through death. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes this remembering possible. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His triumph over death and the grave, all who believe in Him, though they die here and now in a tragic event, will live with Christ forever in His heavenly kingdom, awaiting the day of the resurrection when they will live with God forever in body and soul in the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. God cannot and will not go back on His promise—whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but will have everlasting life.
God’s people are a people who remember. We remember history and we remember HIS-story. We do both as Jeremiah did in Lamentations 3: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘Yahweh is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of Yahweh. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:21-33)
The events of history play out day after day. The events of God’s-story do too. We do not go through a single moment of time without our God and Savior by our side. Although tragedy and even death may strike us at any moment, we are not afraid. We are confident that we are a part of God’s-story. We are a part of history because we have been created and loved by God. We have been saved from our sins through Christ’s death on the cross. You and I are redeemed by His blood. In Christ, we are claimed as children of God through Baptism. We taste and see that the Lord is indeed good as we feast upon the true Body and Blood of Jesus the Lamb who was slain. It is these Means of Grace that sustain us through history in the one, true Christian faith revealed to us in the Bible.
Yet in time, history will come to an end because God’s-story will be brought to fulfillment in the coming again of Jesus our Savior. Then what is depicted for us in Revelation will come to pass, even as history itself passes before HIS-story.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11-16) . . . Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. . . . And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15) . . . Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ . . . And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.’” (Revelation 21:1-8)
We are God’s people who remember. We remember how our loving and merciful God works in history because it is God’s-story, centered in the redeeming, grace-filled work of Jesus Christ. It is HIS cross and HIS resurrection that enable us to face all of history with hope and confidence because our future is with Him forever because He has saved us. So remember history; remember HIS-story. Amen.