Homily preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
On the 10th Anniversary of 9/11/2001 – September 11, 2011
Remembrance is a sacred moment when we raise up and hold to the light of the eternal moment, what has passed; what we have lost. Remembrance begins with deep, personal identification. It begins with remembering the affliction of our sisters and brothers, and marking their pain as our own.
On this the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, we gather to remember all those who died in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.; those who still live and who suffer because of the events of that day.
We remember the stockbrokers, office workers, maintenance workers, bystanders, window-washers and all the others who worked together so valiantly to help each other. We remember the firefighters who rushed upstairs as most everyone else was racing out, the police officers who stood to protect and defend the people and performed their duties until the towers came crashing down on top of them. We remember the thousands of workers, women and men and, old and young, single and married, American-born and those born in countries around the world who did not escape the buildings.
We remember the those who rushed to help, did all they could to help, the people who stood in line at the nation’s blood banks to make living donations from their very bodies, the millions of Americans who gave so generously of their life and labor to endow funds to help the survivors and their families. And we remember the thousands who have died in the wars that followed that tragic day in September 2001—and who are still dying and in harms way.
The sacred act of remembrance is important, not only because we need to honor the lives and memory of all those people, but because, in the act of remembering, we must confront the harsh reality that we still live in a culture of anger, hate, dehumanization, rage and indignation that leads to acts of violence.
I am sure that our local and state leaders will agree that there is nothing political about 9/11 or the symbols from that tragic day we have retrieved and placed in prominent places around the nation as sacred memorials. I do believe that piece of steel makes a humanitarian statement and a theological statement. For it is a tangible reminder that the seeds of hatred and intolerance—when planted firmly and fed well by ignorance and fanaticism—will blossom into the kind of horrible acts of destruction we witnessed ten years ago today and that we have witnessed in other times during the course of our history—the holocaust, genocide in Armenia and the Sudan, the killings in Columbine, and, most recently, the murders of so many teenagers in Oslo, Norway—this time by someone who professed to be a Christian. Those seeds take root in such common and everyday occurrences as bullying, racism, hate crimes, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. May that contorted steel beam remind us all of the price of hatred gone amok and the power that religion can have to do evil as well as to do good.
There was an excellent piece on the editorial page of the Norwalk Hour this week that suggested that today we not only look back and remember but that we have a firm resolve to go forward and make a different world.
Immediately after 9/11, there was a great sense of unity in this country and with our neighbors around the world. We were not red or blue states. We were just human beings who were in shock, who had been in an instant reminded of our vulnerability and the utter fragility of human life.
Sadly, that sense of unity did not last. As a nation that likes to think of itself as godly, we have often strayed from the message we heard today in the readings from Sacred Scripture. We have built too many fences—some metaphorical and some very real—delineating who is “out” and who is “in,” whose religion is good and whose is not, who the valuable members of society are and who are the expendable, who has the right to marry and who should not, who are our enemies and who are our friends.
It prompts me to share this brief story: “Once there was a woman who lived in a little central European village. She was a nurse and had devoted her life to caring for her neighbors. She was there at birth and death; she bound up scratches, bruises and broken bones, as well as sitting through many nights with the seriously ill.
In the course of time she died. She had no family, so the villagers decided to hold a lovely funeral service for her. But the village priest had to remind them that she could not be buried in the cemetery, because it was of one particular religious denomination and the woman was of another.
The villagers protested, but the priest held firm. It was not easy for him, since he too had been nursed back to health by her. Nonetheless, the laws of the church were clear. She would have to be buried outside the fence.
The day of the funeral arrived, and the whole village accompanied her casket to the cemetery, where she was buried—outside the fence. That night, after dark, a group of villagers went back and moved the fence.
What I hope the artifact on the lawn and this remembrance of 9/11 will do is to transform us, women and men and children, remind each and every one of us that we have been created as God’s beloved ones and in God’s image which is love — and give us the will and the audacity to move the fence …, move the fence …, move the fence — until there is no longer a fence to move.