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This past Sunday was the day after the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Our worship at First Baptist reflected on that terrible day. Even after 20 years, we sometimes wonder, “Where was God in the midst of this terrible tragedy?” While the question can be (and has been) answered in expansive ways, this space allows only the most succinct answer, which is: “with us.” The earliest story from the life of Jesus says that his birth fulfilled the prophecy of one whose name would be Emmanuel, which means, “God with us” (Matthew 1: 23). This is the very heart of the gospel, that in Jesus Christ, God entered into human history — and into human suffering. In the cross, we see God’s unconditional partnership with humanity as we experience evil and pain.
God’s participation in our suffering did not end with Christ, however. Through the Holy Spirit, God is wherever any child of God, any human being, suffers. On 9/11, then, God was with every person on those planes, every person in the Pentagon, every person in and around the Twin Towers, every person in that field in Pennsylvania, every rescuer who sacrificed his or her life trying to save others, every family member who received a phone call with the worst possible news.
Rev. Joseph Griesedieck is an Episcopal priest in Manhattan who volunteered at Ground Zero. In the PBS documentary “Faith and Ground Zero,” he tells of a memorable experience. A firefighter called him over to bless a bucket. He says:
“As I looked into the bucket, I saw the unspeakable. I saw a forearm. And it was clear to me that the whole of humanity was represented in that one bucket, because there were parts of various individuals together. And it was much like a crude burial service ... so I made the sign of the cross over the buckets as they came to me, holding my breath, numb, (blessing bucket after bucket). And I realized then that I was in the right place. ... I felt nauseated, sad, angry, confused and completely lost. And yet I knew I was supposed to be there.”
In “the right place”? Why would he say that? Because he knew that that’s where he was needed. On 9/11, God said, “I know that you need me, so I am here. I am here to share your sadness, your anger, your confusion, your pain, your grief.”
Kristy Moore is a bright, successful woman who grew up in Greenwood. When the Twin Towers were attacked, she was at work in Manhattan. Her office building was so close to the Towers that the windows in her office melted, letting in that thick, black smoke. As she and her coworkers waited, hoping to be rescued, they were sitting against a wall holding hands. It was so dark that each person could not see those whose hands they were holding. After six hours — it must have seemed like much longer — some firefighters broke down a door and told the group, “You’ve got to get out, now!” They said, “We can’t even see.” One of the firefighters said, “Just hold hands, and keep walking.”
Just hold hands, and keep walking. This was God’s response on 9/11. God said, “I know it’s dark, but reach out to each other — that’s why I gave you to one another. Hold hands and keep walking ... knowing that I am holding onto you and walking with you.”
Tony Hopkins is the senior pastor of Greenwood First Baptist Church. He can be reached at [email protected]
As you well know !