“Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’" ~Mark 8:27-38
Where were you on September 11, 2001? I was in my first weeks of seminary. As I sat in the auditorium that would continue to form me for the next three years, my professor, Dr. Hackett, said upon entering the room, “Apparently there are some reports of planes that have crashed into the World Trade Center. We will pray as we await further information.”
After class we all raced to Brooks Commons where a crowd had gathered around the TV watching the now familiar images of smoke billowing, people fleeing for their lives, and towers collapsing in ways I could never have imagined. I immediately realized something primal had shifted in our country, but also in my own life. Had I been working at the CDC, my role in the Office of the Director would have been an immediate call to action. There would have been briefing papers to prepare, emergency response teams to assist in deploying, and health surveillance systems to consult. All hands would have been on deck and I could have expected some very long days in the immediate future.
As a seminary student, I was instead unsure what to think. I had gone from providing answers, data, and response in an emergency to now wondering what theological answers could possibly make sense of such horror. With no immediate task at hand, I was instead forced to be present to a whole host of emotions in myself and in my community. I arrived at church that night bewildered and ready to pray. I heard these words from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer for the first time:
“Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray. Amen.”
This prayer captured the fullness of our confusion without easy answers and allowed us to declare hope in the midst of a tragedy so overwhelming there seemed to be no hope. It was amazing to me it had not been written specifically for the occasion, yet so perfectly prayed words for those of us who were suddenly without words or comprehension.
Twenty years later, I wonder how we see that day both as a nation and as individuals transformed by those events? As a faith community, how do we observe this anniversary as both an opportunity to encounter revelation and as a sacred task of remembrance? What have we learned about ourselves in these intervening years? How is our experience in this present time an extension of that pivotal event 20 years ago?
There was something deeply important that was revealed on that day. And as we remember 20 years later there is further revelation available to us. During the Eucharistic Prayer each week we have a moment of anamnesis—an undoing of forgetting. We allow the presence of the Risen Christ to be available to us as life giving food. To pull back from the tyranny of the now and see our own lives set in the context of the eternal is to be given a different way of experiencing our life. It is what allows us to encounter pain and suffering in a new way. It is what allows us take up our cross and follow the way of the one who knew sacrifice to be a central act of love.