This week was notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it marked the first week Canterbury ran the Sunday evening service at Epiphany. (Actually, we’ve done this before on a trial basis, but now, it shall be permanent. Hooray.)
And also, there was that significant anniversary that possibly you heard about in the news?
As a result, the students and I constructed an anniversary service for Sunday evening, at 5:30pm. And I realized, as I was printing out my sermon, that ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, I had gone to a 5:30pm service that my Canterbury chaplain had assembled for us, in the immediate wake of the attacks. And here I was, ten years later, preparing a service for my own students.
Some weird sort of poetry in that, I think.
Anyway, here’s what I said.
September 11, 2011
Propers for the Anniversary of a Disaster (Holy Women, Holy Men)
Jeremiah 32, Matthew 5:1-15
It started slowly, a few months ago, and its been growing until the past week or so, it’s been everywhere. No escape, everywhere you look– on the news, in the paper, on tv, on the news sites, looking back to ten years ago today. Retrospectives, documentaries. book releases, everyone reflecting. An endless drumbeat of remembrance. Where were you when you heard? Where were you when?
For many of us, this was our first big world-changing event. Some of us are so young we don’t even remember it clearly. I grew up with my parents talking about where they were when JFK was shot– Mom coming home and finding the maid ironing with tears coming down her face. Dad held late in school, praying the rosary with the nuns.And for my brother and i, for my generation, for us, we had this. Not a cold day in November, and shots fired in Dallas, but a sunny day in September, and towers falling from the sky. Running back to the dorm from class in my first week of college. Asking my father if our cousin in the pentagon was safe. Carrying around iodine tablets for a year, in case of nuclear meltdown.
On days like today, it’s easy to get trapped back there–back in a time warp. To get sucked into where were you when? And to relive every moment of that day ten years ago, and swear that we will never forget and let the anger and the grief and the fear overwhelm us once again.
But Christ calls us to another way. Christians are people of hope, we are people who believe that God brings seeds of life and redemption out of even the worst sort of death and destruction, if God so chooses– we are resurrection people. So we can’t stay mired in the past, and just keep playing our stories. We have to do more.
The first reading we read was from the prophet Jeremiah, who preached and worked among the people of Israel in a very tumultuous time. The northern half of Israel had already been conquered by Assyria, and now Jeremiah prophesied that Babylon would soon overrun all of the southern part of Judea, including the city of Jerusalem. His whole career, this is what he preached– it did not make him popular. Or happy. He gets thrown in a well at one point.
But he’s right. Babylon comes. And in 586 bc, the first temple is destroyed. The reading we heard is a reaction to that, to the siege of the holy city. For a people who built their faith, quite literally, around the idea that God dwelt with them in this city, to see it destroyed was nothing less than catastrophic. But this is not where Jeremiah ends. As the Babylonians are laying siege to the city, Jeremiah buys a plot of land from his cousin. He negotiates the price, writes up the bill of sale and the land deed, makes three copies, and seals it in a jar, and buries it within the city walls.
It’s the last thing he does before the city falls to the babylonians, and he’s carried off, and everything is ransacked. It’s his last act as Jerusalem’s prophet, basically. And it seems to make no sense at all. Like the guy who spent the previous 32 chapters telling everyone they were doomed has suddenly flip flopped. But instead it’s the reverse. Jeremiah buries the jar as a promise. Not for him, but for those in the future– “thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, houses and fields and vineyards and shall again be bought in this land.” he says
43 Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, It is a desolation, without human beings or animals; it has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans.”
It’s his own seed of resurrection–his own promise. That one day, though he won’t live to see it, God will act, and bring the Israelites home, and the destruction that they are living through won’t have the final word. It is an ultimate act of faith.
So the question for us, is not so much where were we then, but what have we done, what will we do? What have been our seeds of resurrection? In
the past ten years, what have we planted in the ground, what seeds of mercy, of peace, have we sown to spring forth in a better world?
Because that’s our job, as people of faith. We sow the seeds of a better world, a world where God dwells with his people. We heard the beatitudes read, as we’ve heard them hundreds of times before, and those things that Jesus tells us– blessed are the meek, the poor, the peacemakers, the merciful, the righteous, all those things, those are the seeds of resurrection, because when we do them, we make a promise to ourselves, and to those coming after us that the world won’t always look like this, and that new world? That’s the one we want to live in. The one that’s not torn by hatred, poverty, and age-old violence again and again. The one that God has worked to bring up out of the dust of our mistakes, because God’s goodness is ultimately defeated by nothing. Not even us.
That’s the world we sow, each time we listen to someone we disagree with. When we befriend someone different than us. When we forgive someone we’ve been angry with. When we take another’s suffering as seriously as we take our own. We are filling jars with resurrections and planting them in fertile soil. So that one day, God willing, we will have grown a world for the generations to come that will have no earth-stopping days left in it.