Presiding Bishop’s message for the fifth anniversary of 9/11
On a brilliantly clear Tuesday morning five years ago the peace and security many of us took for granted were suddenly shattered. Even as the tragic events of September 11, 2001 ended the way we had looked at the world, they challenged us to see ourselves in a new way.
That afternoon, as streams of stunned New Yorkers made their way uptown past the Church Center heading north, and as far away as they could walk from the devastation, I sat at my desk and wrote a word to the church. I said our responsibility was to “engage with all our hearts and minds and strength in God’s project of transforming the world into a place of peace â€“ where swords can become plowshares and spears are changed into pruning hooks.”
I said that our challenge was to claim our participation in the Risen Christ’s work of casting out fear, and proclaiming to all people the peace that the world cannot give.
Now, five difficult years have passed, and our nation and our world are beset by fear and wracked by violence of almost unimaginable proportions. The war in Iraq is well into its third year and a peaceful resolution seems more distant than ever. Over the past two months violence in the Middle East has escalated. A growing divide separates rich from poor, both within this nation and in the nations of the world, a dynamic that breeds further conflict and instability.
We remain threatened â€“ as last month’s foiled airline plot reminded us â€“ by a well-organized and unpredictable network of human beings whose goal is to inflict slaughter and destruction.
And, very sadly: religion is being used not to reconcile, but to divide.
I can think of no better way to observe the passage of five years since the horrific events of September 11, 2001 than to commit ourselves, individually, as a church and as a nation to looking for new ways to pursue healing and restoration in the world God so loves. I can think of no better way to honor the memory of those who died on September 11 five years ago than by committing ourselves to working for a future in which the events of that day will not be repeated.
What, specifically, does this mean for the United States today?
I continue to be guided by the words of our House of Bishops in the weeks following 9/11. Challenging us to “wage reconciliation” in the world, the bishops urged us to “bear one another’s burdens across the divides of culture, religion, and differing views of the world.”
To accomplish this, I believe our nation first must reclaim its historic identity as a champion of peace in the world. At the present moment, this is nowhere more necessary than in the Middle East. Our nation must play the role not just of a superpower but also of a super-servant â€“ willing to work in a sustained and focused way for lasting peace. This means examining our own nation’s relationship to the Muslim world as recommended by the 9/11 Commission. It means understanding how the U.S. is perceived abroad. It means and working to foster mutual understanding â€“ within our own nation and between nations â€“ among all who share a common heritage as the children of Abraham.
Second, I believe it is more urgent than ever that the United States address the vast disparity between the wealth of nations such as our own and the extreme poverty of nearly half of the world’s people. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals give to the governments of the world a clear and workable plan for how this can be achieved. I could not be more gratified that the Episcopal Church’s recent General Convention identified the Millennium Development Goals as a mission priority. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and I will soon be releasing a joint pastoral letter on the MDGs that describes how individual Christians can work for United States leadership in the fight against poverty.
Finally, I believe this nation must walk humbly before our God. As the House of Bishops observed in September 2001, such willingness to change course “opens our hearts and gives room to God’s compassion as it seeks to bind up, to heal, and to make all things new and whole.”
Particularly in working for resolution to the war in Iraq, I pray that hubris not provoke our nation to stay a course that does not appear to be working, and that pride not blind our eyes to alternative strategies. I pray that in the Middle East we will be willing to try â€“ knowing in all humility how great the task â€“ to bring the parties together to find the peace that has so long eluded the suffering people of Israel and Palestine.
Though the challenges facing our world seem even more daunting than they did five years ago, we can place our faith in the power of the Holy Spirit to draw us always into God’s work of reconciling the world to himself “by making peace through the blood of the cross.” For me, the power of the Cross was never more evident than when I stood at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001. It was the Feast of the Holy Cross, and I had just presided at the Eucharist at the Seaman’s Church Institute, which had already begun the task of giving respite to rescue workers and volunteers.
As I was returning from the site of the fallen World Trade Center, I entered a deserted and silent St. Paul’s Chapel, an Episcopal Church where George Washington, our nation’s first President once prayed.
Though the chapel is just next to Ground Zero, in eerie contrast to the chaos and devastation outside the door, everything was in its place and looked just as it should â€“ except for a fine gray dust which lay everywhere like a blanket. As I stood there, trying to let the experiences and sights of the morning settle within me, I looked toward the altar and my eyes came to rest upon the brass crucifix that hung above it.
Suddenly Jesus’ words from the gospel I had just proclaimed at the Eucharist came to me: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people â€“ all things â€“ to myself.” In that moment I knew with the full force of my being that the tiny brass arms of the crucifix could contain in their embrace all the horror and destruction and grief and rage occasioned by what had happened.
Five years later, I still know the truth of this. In the power of the Cross lies our hope for today, and tomorrow, and our future. For in baptism Christ’s work of reconciliation, achieved upon the Cross, becomes our own. It is costly and demanding work. It is work we cannot carry out on our own. Christ at work in us, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, supplies us with his own strength, endurance and love. And it is Christ who makes it possible for us to withstand the forces of pessimism and despair, and to be ministers of reconciliation and instruments of his peace. My brothers and sisters in Christ: in the days ahead may we be such ministers and instruments.
“Glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”