Do you remember where you were on 9/11/2001? It was a cataclysmic day for our nation as we watched airplanes fly into and destroy the World Trade Center buildings and part of the Pentagon. I remember that morning. We were in Champaign/Urbana where Stephen was in his first semester of teaching at the University of Illinois. Hannah was 4 months old. She was lying on her stomach on the living room floor on a blanket trying to master her muscles so she could roll. I was reading for my seminary course on Paul’s letters. When Stephen called from the office and said “turn on the T.V.”
As I look back these 19 years, what I remember most about 9/11 is not the traumatic acts of a handful of terrorists, but the extraordinary actions and outpouring of love and support across the nation and around the globe. It is the unity, the sense of “philia” (brotherly love), the commitment not to descend into bigotry and scapegoating, but to ascend as one humanity to affirm the commitment to peace and love and healing in all major faiths. I remember that weekend, faith communities around the nation saw the highest number of worshippers in years as people sought not just comfort but solidarity in the power of faith to strengthen, to knit people together into a fabric of divine goodness and peace. Our inclination, in response to this tragedy, was to pursue the good, the transcendent, to pursue peace and reconciliation.
How long ago that time seems. But, if we stop and remember, I believe we can recover that communal inclination to pursue the good and the peaceful. Remembering is powerful. Our Christian faith depends on remembering. Each week we come together in worship. We literally “re-member” the Body of Christ—lifting up bread and wine, but also knitting together out of disparate church members in person and on-line a new incarnation of the Body of Christ. Remembering rebuilds us into a body of Christ, a people of God that is refocused, recommitted to peace and unity, being of one mind and one spirit with Jesus Christ.
I believe that we can create a community of peace and reconciliation by intentionally remembering: remembering how we came together after 9/11; remembering what Jesus said to his disciples the last night he was with them: love one another as I have loved you; remembering some of the last words from Jesus’ parched lips as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Like remembering, which helps remake us anew, so to does forgiveness. The forgiveness we receive from God and from one another makes us new. The forgiveness we give to others makes our relationship new, helps to remake the forgiven one, and creates a future we can move into together.
In the weeks and months ahead that will undoubtedly see even more division in our country because of the election and the increasingly grave economic fall-out of the pandemic, I am trying to see beyond November. I am trying to see into God’s future. And to remind myself and our community what we will need to do to secure that divine future. We will need to practice both “remembrance” and “forgiveness.” Often. Remembering what makes us the children and image of God. Forgiving what we have done or others have done to us that diminishes that identity and image.
Yes, the couple of months that immediately lie before us will be challenging. But let us get ready by practicing the tools we will need farther into the future. Practice remembering, practicing forgiveness—both receiving and giving—today, and we and the world that God loves shall be the better for it in the near future.