On 9/11/2001 I was living in Zurich Switzerland. The community of English-speaking people there decided to have a church service on the 13th to hold up the people of the United States in our prayers. The local priest asked me, as an American, to speak to the community. Below is what I said:
Western societies have developed into a promise of sorts. A promise of security and mutual respect of ideas, religious institutions, property, and people. But as with most covenants, this promise is easily broken. The vicious can always harm the innocent.
On Tuesday men and women living under the western covenant put on suits, grabbed their coffees and went to work. At least 5,000 would never come home. Sixty thousand would lose their offices. The lives of millions would be disrupted.
And in the face of this broken covenant I, and many, go from shock, to despair, to anger. We are not unlike the 1st century community that saw the promise they embraced broken on the cross. I would like to take up the sword and cut off the ear of those that would break the covenant. But I am challenged by a Lord that would instead prefer to heal the ear of his captor.
But the numbers are too large and the questions too broad for a short reflection. Instead let me give you an image.
Eileen, a friend of mine, comes out her front door. It is a beautiful Manhattan fall morning. A plane flies low overhead. She looks up. The plane smacks into the World Trade Center a couple blocks away. She and everyone on the street stops, transfixed. The ball of fire blows out into a perfect blue sky. Wisps of paper, so important a moment before; post-it notes, and grocery lists, and laundry tickets, and copy paper are blown into the sky. The horror. A few minutes later another plane hits the other tower. But there is no top to this disaster. The people begin to jump from the upper floors. They tumble as they fall.
Knowing nothing better to do, reeling in shock, Eileen decides to go to work. She walks uptown to her office. I talked to her on Wednesday and she hadn't been home.
But let's go back to the people jumping out of the building. Two of them are holding hands. Let us focus on them. I cannot tell you if these two were black or white, men or women, married, gay, or straight. They might even have been English. These two are telling us something.
In the face of ultimate disaster we can still reach out and touch someone else. Though we may jump into the abyss of smoke and fire we do not have to go alone. We are not abandoned by our God. Underneath the checkpoints and the metal detectors and the locks on our doors, is a covenant that cannot be broken. It gives us cause for thanksgiving amid the rubble of our lives.
I would like to close with a prayer from Compline in the American Prayer Book, I couldn't find it in the Anglican one.
"Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen"