The Word This Weekend – September 8, 2019
“The Cross at Ground Zero”
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
(1 Corinthians 1:18-21)
Some things just stay in your memory. Maybe it was the birth of a child, or a dear one laid to rest. Perhaps it was a signature accomplishment, or a crushing loss. For older Americans, the assassination of President Kennedy is one of these moments. And for Americans who were alive in 2001, it was the event we memorialize as 9/11.
Each year at this time my heart and mind return to the days after September 2001, these eighteen years on. One of the first calls I received that terrible 9/11 evening was from a longtime friend and neighbor from our summer community on Long Island, telling me that her son-in-law had been lost in the towers. The deepest shock of all was that our family had shared a Labor Day barbecue with this young man and his family only days before. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the image of playing lawn darts on the front lawn, sharing a burger and conversation, and watching their kids and ours chasing each other around as we knocked back a beer and toasted a great NY summer. And here we were, straining to grasp the reality that he was no more, this young guy who I had just been starting to get to know better.
There was much to do during those awful days, as a New York pastor with many connections to those who were lost and to the many who loved them. As a bishop’s assistant, I joined in many official observances, as well as the funerals and memorials of childhood friends. There were trips to Ground Zero, grim visits to “The Pit,” and a thousand other moments of pastoral care in the aftermath of the most terrible event any of us had ever experienced. It’s as fresh to me today as it was those eighteen years ago. Just as fresh, and just as upsetting as today’s news reports of terrorism, hated and division.
A week later, still reeling from all that had happened on that tragic and life-altering day, I wrote these words to my congregation in White Plains, and to the broader Lutheran community in New York. They seem strangely appropriate to our present moment, and I share them here:
We stood there that night, Sunday September 16th, on the steps of the White Plains City Hall. About twenty religious leaders from Jewish and Christian communities, from Asian and historically Black churches, Spanish and English-speaking congregations, reflecting the diversity of a city of 50,000 which sits on the beltway just north of New York City.
Before us stood a sea of humanity – between 8,000 and10,000 people was the estimate -- with candles lighted to push away the darkness, tear-stained faces mirroring the broken hearts and yearning spirits which drew them to crowd the streets surrounding their city's center.
Our service was hastily assembled, blending readings from the psalms, with songs ranging from Taizé to catholic praise music, from spirituals to Amazing Grace. We heard words which reached back to our heritage as people of the Torah and the Q’uran, and as people of the Cross.
We cried with one voice, "Lord listen to your children praying, send your Spirit in this place." We named the names of the missing and the lost. The names rose from the crowd like a cloud of lamentation, like those "sighs too deep for words" which are the Spirit's strange gift when language fails us.
We dared to sing together against the night sky that "deep in our hearts, we still believe." That we shall live in peace, that we shall not be moved, that we are not afraid, that we shall overcome someday.
And there, in the ashes of 9/11, and surrounded by the incense of prayers both repentant and expectant, we learned something that perhaps only a tragedy like this has the power to teach -- that our sad divisions must needs give way when that deeper need of broken communities to gather their prayers and longings presses us together.
And so we prayed. We sang. We embraced and connected, with our neighbors and colleagues in ministry. And we promised that night that we'd remember -- those who fell, and those who grieved -- and promised, too, that we'd never let ourselves get so divided again.
And here we are, eighteen years on. Much has changed, and too much simply hasn’t. Still we stand divided, angry, fearful and suspicious of one another. We look to our leaders for protection and wisdom, and to one another for reassurance and peace. While nothing approaching 9/11 has occurred in our land over these past years, we still have witnessed through media many more attacks and violence in every corner of the world. Our hearts still beat heavy, our souls yearning for that ever-elusive word of peace and solidarity, even today, these eighteen anniversaries later.
And so, as at the Pit, at Ground Zero, at countless graveyards and in the community that yet dares to hope, I continue to pray. I pray that this event, which has both preyed upon and animated my walk with Christ ever since, may someday be realized.
“Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord: Peace in our time, O send us! For there is none on earth but You, none other to defend us. You only, Lord, can fight for us. Amen.
See you at font, table and community this weekend, as we learn again to cherish all our gifts and liberty, by the grace of the Christ who is our brother, our redeemer, and our hope.
With You in God’s Good Work,