We all remember what we were doing on September 11, 2011, fifteen years ago today. What were you doing on that day and what memories do you have? I was leading a sales meeting in a small meeting room in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The weather was lovely that day, and it seemed like just like any other day of the week. We heard some people talking in the other room from us, and we asked what was going on, and were told that a small plane had just hit one of the twin towers in New York City. Then a few minutes later we heard that it was not a small plane. It was a big commercial passenger plane. This news ended our sales meeting, and we all gathered around a television in another room just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower.
As we watched the videos multiple times on that day, and in the days to come, of the twin towers disappearing into ash heaps, and the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, and the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh, our emotions were mixed. I remember being sorrowful, angry and terrified. Churches everywhere were having services and were open for prayer. I don’t know what it was like where you were at that time, but I remember seeing people in church that hadn’t been in a church service in years. It was a time of encouraging one another, and churches provided a place to mourn and to feel connected to others at this time of soul-searching of the largest loss of lives from an attack on the United States, surpassing the loss of lives from the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The loss of lives on Pearl Harbor was over 2,400. The loss of lives from the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, from the four crashed planes, totaled close to 3,000, and included firefighters, policemen and other first responders. As of August 2013, medical authorities concluded that over 1100 people who worked, lived, or studied in Lower Manhattan at the time of the attack have been diagnosed with cancer as a result of “exposure to toxins at Ground Zero” Over 1,400 rescue workers who responded to the scene in the days and months after the attacks have also died.
On this anniversary, our thoughts and prayers are with the many thousands of people who remember September 11th as the day that their loved ones did not come home to them. We remember the fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers — whose memories we shall never forget.
Today we are also celebrating Holy Cross Day. In our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the crowd that He is going to be crucified and die on a cross. And, the crowd figures they are one up on this guy theologically and decide to set him straight. They actually challenge the authenticity of Jesus message with these words: “How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up…what’s this nonsense about death? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus knowing they are blind to the truth he is teaching says, “I know you don’t have a clue. You all are in complete darkness here. If you walk in the darkness you are blind…you have no clue of what’s up do you?” Okay folks listen up: “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light”. In other words, when you are blinded by the light of God, your eyes will be opened and then you will not only see, but you will become the children of the light”. (John 12:31-36a)
Last week we talked about the mandate to “love God and to love our neighbor”. We talked about the way of the Cross. We talked about the importance of loving God, seeking Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s the vertical part of living under the sign of the cross. Then we talked about loving others, the horizontal part of the cross that completes the picture, the horizontal beam laying on the vertical beam, the dual picture of living under the sign of the cross telling us to love and seek God and to love and serve others. You can’t have one without the other. (James 2:1-17). Walking under the sign of the cross is a testimony of being blinded by the light of God.
The cross points us to a loving God and asks us to love what God loves. The cross reminds us to be passionate about God and to participate in that passion for a different kind of world, here and now. And what about the future and our “Blessed Hope”, and all that is beyond our lives? We leave that in God’s hands.
I invite you this morning as you come to the altar to take your burdens and leave them at the altar. I keep thinking of that old Christian hymn that included these words: “Take your burdens to the cross and leave them there”. When you come to the altar for communion this morning, take your burdens and leave them there. The altar points us to the cross and the cross points us to Jesus. Bring your burdens to the altar and leave them there.
May we make the theme of this Holy Cross Day from the words of Saint Paul: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”. (Gal. 6:8)
by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen