Without a doubt, the attack on New York City was a watershed moment. I shared with our children that the US was different pre 9/11. It is likely all of us remember where we were when the events of that day eighteen years ago hit our consciousness.
We were living in Concord, New Hampshire. At the time I was serving as Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Early that September morning, I learned that one of our parishioners named Jim, living at home, but under hospice care, was nearing the end of his life. I quickly headed to his home where his wife greeted me at the door. They lived in a simple trailer filled with love and mementos from a long life together.
After catching up with them both, Jim asked for communion, which I had brought with me. When a few prayers were said, I took a wafer out of a travel communion box. I held the wafer in my hand and looked into Jim’s tear filled eyes. I said, “Jim, this is the body of Christ for you.” As I said the words, “the body of Christ for you,” I saw the television in the background. At that exact moment, the first tower collapsed. We were speechless.
While lots happened in the ensuing days, including being asked by the Governor of New Hampshire to set up interfaith worship services, what has remained with me the most was the memory of the juxtaposition of the wafer being placed in Jim’s hand at the moment the first tower fell.
Although it is difficult for me to come up with words to describe that experience, I know that our suffering is met with God’s suffering and that our suffering is not distant from God, but rather lies within the center of God’s heart.
Whether it is the unspeakable horror of that September day and the years of torment that followed for so many or our own suffering in our lives now, suffering is perhaps when we are closest to God and God is closest to each one of us. We may or may not be able to articulate that intimacy with God during such times, but my prayer is that in ways that supersede understanding we may take great comfort, solace and strength from this truth. Jesus’ pain on the cross joins our pain on the crosses we bear each day.
The good news is that the cross and suffering does not have the last word to who we are, but rather a restored and renewed life, as it was and remains for Jesus and all who have gone before us, including all who perished 18 years ago today.
While eternal life is ahead for each of us, in the meantime it is helpful and reassuring to know there is no place where God is not, even when we are in the darkest of places. David, of Israel, understood this when he wrote the following words. I invite us all to pray and meditate upon his words as they are a salve to our post 9/11 broken hearts.
1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.