Remembering 9/11

World Trade Center after 9/11

This weekend is the twentieth anniversary of a day marked by shock, terror, sorrow, and tremendous loss.  It is one of those major life events which continue to shape our world.  It is one of those life events where those of us old enough to have seen it unfold on our TV screens know where we were and what we were doing when the news broke.  It remains the deadliest non-state terrorist act in world history.

2,977 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001 in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania at the hands of 19 extremists who hijacked four aeroplanes, two of which were piloted into the World Trade Centre twin towers, causing both to collapse.  The third ploughed into the Pentagon.  The fourth, according to official reports, was bravely brought down by passengers who broke into the cockpit and prevented it from hitting its intended target, likely the White House or Capitol.  United Flight 93 instead crashed into a field at 563 mph with such force that the ground swallowed it up.  The fireball from the 7,000 gallons of fuel spread debris over 8 miles.  The further deaths of the 44 on board certainly averted many more deaths elsewhere.

Let us make space in our prayers, this weekend especially, to remember the painful events and sufferings of 9/11 with respectfulness, compassion, purpose and, yes, forgiveness.

Let us remember in prayer all those who died, all those mourning lost friends and relatives.  “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).  We remember images and words which our eyes and ears were never meant to see or hear, for instance the tender last words of husbands and wives who would never embrace again.  May all who died rest in peace.

Let us remember those who risked their own lives to save others.  The 343 firefighters who died trying to evacuate the two towers.  71 Police on the ground.  The 44 passengers on Flight 93.  “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We imagine the feeling of emptiness in the arms of children who could not find mum or dad for their welcome home hug.  We pray for the 3051 children who lost one or both parents and became orphans.  For all parents who lost a child along with their hopes and dreams for them.  We remember our own feelings of emptiness as our own trust in the predictable order of life and work was radically shaken.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live” (John 11:25).   Although lives were tragically taken away, we can remember 9/11 with Christ’s promise and know that, though so many lives were lost and death seems to be the end, it is but the gateway to Eternal Life.

Let us remember those who are still suffering after-effects.  Jesus wants us to “be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36).  We are perhaps better able to pray compassionately for those suffering, when we remember the comfort we have received from God during painful times in our own lives (2 Corinthians 1:4).  To deepen our prayer, it is very helpful to consider those who are suffering as if we are suffering with them (Hebrews 13:3).   Steve Scheibner was the pilot originally scheduled to fly American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Centre, but a last-minute rota change spared his life that day.  Megan, his wife, recalls that the feelings of relief for her husband’s safety also brought her God’s deep compassion for those around her who were grieving.

Quite apart from the ongoing trauma – life changing injuries and effects on the mental health of survivors – more than 1,100 people who worked in or lived near the World Trade Centre during 9/11 have been diagnosed with cancer due to exposure to toxins from the site such as asbestos, smoke from jet fuel and other carcinogens.  Clean-up took 3.1 million man-hours and was not finished until the following summer.  It took 100 days to extinguish the fires.  Many have respiratory problems to this day, particularly the rescue workers.  We pray for them all.  “We are in difficulties on every side, but never cornered;   we see no answer to our problems, but never despair;    we have been persecuted, but never deserted;    struck down but never destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Megan Scheibner recalls “The anniversary of September 11th. brings back painful and troubling memories, but it also brings me a yearly reminder. A reminder of the clarion call I’ve received that beckons me to live this life on purpose; to leave it a better place than when I found it.”  As Psalm 90:12 encourages, we can ask God to, “Teach us to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.”

Finally the hardest part of all.  We are called to pray with forgiveness in our hearts.  “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).  As Christians it’s important for us to try to understand and to forgive those who committed the 9/11 attacks but forgiving in no way condones their actions.  Their violent acts show how circumstances have “blinded their minds ….., so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

We have seen in all faiths and none how extremists, skilled in the practice of radicalisation, can target and blind the vulnerable, the mentally unstable, those who suffer injustice, those who feel anger and revenge.   Jesus asks us in Luke 6:27  “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly……….(Luke 6:35) You will have a great reward and you will be sons of the Most High, for He himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”

Let us “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)

We give voice to our deep longing for peace and, with our prayer, commit ourselves to those actions that will draw us closer to our most holy desire – peace amongst all the people of the Earth, for we are all God’s children.

Lord, grant us peace. Amen.