We will remember September 11, 2001, and we should. From thoughtful analysis to social media memes, we are being reminded to remember that day twenty years ago tomorrow. Young adults will remember their parents’ reactions to something awful and those of us middle age and older will recall exactly where we were when we first heard the news. The memories will be somber.
How will we remember 9/11 and what should we remember about it?
The President’s speech writers were already preparing for a remembrance that would no doubt honor victims and first responders, but which would also be a celebrative occasion for scoring political points. We assume all first drafts have been shredded.
Among the things I will remember is a community service that same Tuesday evening in September when the pastors and the people of the churches and the town in Beaver, Pennsylvania, gathered for a hastily planned but profoundly moving time of prayers and hymns. I remember how, having been in front of our television sets all day, we were hesitant to leave the company of friends and strangers. Long after the final benediction, people lingered in hushed conversation on the sidewalks outside the host church. No one wanted to go home.
Three years ago, one of the members of our pastors’ group in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, wondered if we should start planning a service to commemorate the Twentieth Anniversary of 9/11. Back in 2001, they, too, had called the community together for a service of prayer and hymns. But as we talked, it seemed as if we mostly wanted to celebrate the last time the church had anything to say to its community. I am no longer in Langhorne or a part of that group, but it looks as if there will be no event. That is probably a good thing.
Here in Auburn we will gather for a community prayer vigil on Saturday evening. The date will not go unnoticed, but our prayers will be for now, for the people of Afghanistan and for our world. (Auburn folks, James Plaza, 8-9 p.m.)
How shall we remember September 11, 2001? What shall we remember about it?
The fall of the city to the Babylonian invaders had been the 9/11 for the people of Jeremiah’s Jerusalem. Many of them had been taken captive to their captors’ country. Psalm 137 records their lament many years later as they ask how they might sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land (verse 4). Then they vow to not forget, to remember always (verses 5-6). Finally they cry out for divine justice using some of the ugliest words in Scripture (verses 7-9).
Shall we remember 9/11 with a call for justice, even revenge?
Surely the people of Moses’ generation would have remembered exactly where they were when the word came that they were to pack up and be ready to leave the only home they had known for a promised place flowing with milk and honey.
What were they to make of those memories? At the end of his life and as their years in the wilderness drew to a close, Moses called on the people of the Exodus to remember all they had been through, And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:2–3 (ESV)
For the people who would soon land safe on Canaan’s side, they were to remember in such a way that their memories would teach them that they were not to live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
The war in Afghanistan is over and it ended badly. Much injustice remains in the wake of our exodus. The Taliban will seek revenge.
But for us, certainly for those of us who know the God of the Exodus and of the Babylonian Captivity, the God who sent his only Son to die that we might live, this is no time for vengeance against the vengeful. Humbled, might we know that we do not live by bread – or power or position or pleasure – alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
In the days after 9/11, many people, many wise people, thought there might be a turning to the church and to the Gospel, that those who filled our sanctuaries and our town squares to pray and to sing in those days just after might continue to come our way. Our wisdom proved foolishness when six weeks later our visitors were all gone. It may have been the last time the church had anything to say to its community.
How shall we remember 9/11? Humbly. Seeking God’s truth in how we live and what we say.