Today being 9/11, I wrestled with how to properly reflect on this day in our country’s history. As a rule I do not allow patriotic celebrations in worship, as the actions we take in worship reveal to what or whom our worship is directed 1. And yet it is right to remember this day — the lives so horrifically lost on it, and the decade and a half of war it precipitated.
The question is, for me, “In what way do we remember?”
It isn’t enough to remember the grief and pain of that day fifteen years ago and do nothing with it. Grief, when expressed well, is an extremely healthy emotion. It helps us recognize the gravity of a person’s life in the world, and rightly recognizes the sorrow when a human life is lost. The lives which were lost on 9/11 were taken in such a public and horrible way of course we should still grieve the events of this day. When we get lost in grief, however, the emotion can be toxic. Toxic grief can only focus on what has been lost. In so doing, it loses the ability to celebrate the life which was lived.
The act of Remembrance also must not be used to stoke the emotions of fear and anger. Sadly, this seems to be the way it is most commonly evoked in post 9/11 America. “Never Forget” is frequently super-imposed over a montage of patriotic images and the iconic burning towers. This seizes grief and directs it toward a “righteous anger” which can be imposed on the world through American strength. In this way “Never Forget” is used to convey a different statement altogether, “Never Again.”
Christian remembrance at all times, but especially in worship, must be radically different from both toxic and hijacked grief. We do remember what happened in the past. We also, in the present, are called to remember by offering comfort and working for both peace and justice. But Christians also use our memories of days like 9/11 to point toward the future. When we remember the brokenness of this world, it drives us to the hope and longing for Jesus’ Kingdom to manifest in this world and make all things new. Faced with the reality of death and suffering, the words of Revelation echo in our hearts,
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, the 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, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
Keeping this in mind, I opened our prayer time this morning with a short reflection on the nature of Christian remembrance. We then held a moment of silence, remembering the pain of that day 15 years ago and silently expressing our longing for the Kingdom to come — where families will have to suffer the horror of such events ever again.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
- Yes, there are many Christians who disagree with me on this. But I can’t theologically reconcile mixing civil and revealed religion in worship. ↩