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How to Commemorate the Attacks on 9/11?

September 6, 2011

This Sunday, as everyone is likely already aware, is:

a) the 10th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 in Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and New York, and

b) the Sunday when the lectionary gives us the reading where Peter asks Jesus how many times someone must forgive.

It is an incredible coincidence, in my mind, that this Gospel lesson would fall on this day of this lectionary year.  Certainly forgiveness is a part of our response to the anniversary, and one that the preaching will definitely touch on, if not focus on.  But it does not encompass the whole of our response.

As one clergy colleague just pointed out to me, “people still need to grieve, even now.”  I think he’s right – grieving is a part of this day and probably will be for some time.  I don’t know about forever, but at least for the foreseeable future.  We will try to incorporate our sense of grief into our liturgy this Sunday through the Offertory Anthem, which is a 9/11 commemorative piece.

We will also pray.   We will use the Prayers of the People which the Diocesan Liturgy Committee has written especially for this Sunday, in which we will pray for those who lost their lives, for those who mourn, for our leaders and the leaders of every nation, and for ourselves.  We will pray for the strength and courage to renounce violence, for grace to give up hatred, and for forgiveness of our enemies.  Praying is perhaps the second most important thing we will do to commemorate these attacks.

What?!  Praying is only the second most important thing we’ll do?  What in the world will be the most important thing we do then?

To me, a terrorist attack is about more than taking lives and maiming bodies.  It’s about more than physical destruction, although that is certainly a big part.  In the end though, the physical destruction is only a vehicle by which the terrorist delivers their most mortal blow, their most grievous injury:  fear.   Part of what terror attacks are all about is instilling fear into the normal. Not allowing that part of it to succeed means that, though lives were lost, the terrorists’ goals were not fully accomplished.

So, following that, I believe the most important thing we will do on this day is bless the backpacks of our school children, have a wiffle ball game, and a bbq.  For the blessing of the backpacks, it addresses the future generation and associates both the normal (going back to school) and a word of blessing with this day, rather than leaving them only with sadness and a word of grief.  For the wiffle ball game, first of all, it’s pretty darn American, satisfying the needs of the patriotic.  Second, it’s pretty darn fun, and fun is antithetical to fear.  It just screams at the terrorist: you can’t keep us down!  But it’s also invitational, because everyone can participate.  And that’s important, because if we can invite everyone, even our enemy, to our table to eat with us, to our field to play with us, then we are being Christ in this broken world, and that, that, will be the most important thing we do on this day, or any day.

Let me send you out with our choir’s amazing piece from last year’s Lessons and Carols service.  The piece is “The Dream Isaiah Saw,” which is all about the Peaceable Kingdom image where the lion lays down with the lamb, and where we are spared, finally, from fang and claw.  It was composed in the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Fr. Ryan+

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 6, 2011 6:18 pm

    Fryan, you are the man.

    This is exactly – EXACTLY – the right response.

    I remember in the ’80’s when the IRA was letting bombs off in London and my job involved walking round London selling books – it gave one pause. But when someone asked me if I’d change my routine or stop doing it, I said “no, because then they win”. When people asked me if I was crazy flying to the Frankfurt Book Fair 5 weeks after 9/11, same answer.

    These people only win when they stop us being who we are and being who we can be and being who we are called to be. If we carry on, as you suggest here, they lose, they cannot beat us – we win.

    I’m sure it’s correct for some people to hold a requiem or some other memorial – particularly for those who lost loved ones but I really feel, for those of us who didn’t, it is even better to play ball, flip burgers and celebrate who we are – an act of witness – continuing to be who we are.

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