Earlier last week, one of the many commentators on 9/11 suggested that perhaps the best way to honor
the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is silence.
No words, she said, would do justice
to the sorrow of that memory, nor the
deeply complicated history that follows.
I am sympathetic to her view.
It’s not just one day of sudden violence
that we remember today, but ten years of consequences,
reverberations we still feel and act upon in our responses,
as a nation, as individuals—
the long wars and many more dead,
the economic crises that arise from the instability
that violence produces.
Silence opens a space for us to ponder and pray,
to remember and process deep emotion.
One of my strongest memories of that time ten years ago
is of the silence that followed the event.
For a few days after 9/11 there was no air traffic
permitted to fly over American skies.
We were living still at my mother’s house,
and I spent several hours
over the course of that week
near a pond in the woods, praying.
I heard the silence of the mornings in a way
I hadn’t heard since childhood,
no sounds of engines passing above.
I saw the emptiness of the blue sky,
no jet trails marking the paths of travelers.
The wide silence of skies had come as a means of protection,
but it also became a memorial.
The silence held the enormity of what had happened.
It opened a space to ponder and absorb the shock and grief.
I sometimes feel odd when I think about 9/11
because unlike many people, I never felt anger,
just shock and deep mourning.
I lamented the response of returning violence for violence.
Several of my friends lived in New York;
Michael’s company had a floor in one of the towers.
And I am sure, along with all of you,
I felt the premonition, even the recognition
that we would never be the same again.
We would be living with the fall out for years.
Our scripture lessons this morning
bring us again, as they have for several weeks now,
to the question of forgiveness.
They take us to the edge, the threshold of what we can do
and what we need God’s help to do.
The practice of mercy is the crucible of faith.
The path of forgiveness is often where we
are tried in our deepest selves.
But it is the path our Lord takes,
and it is a the path to which we are called as his followers.
One of the words we can speak,
as Christians, into the deep sorrow of today,
into the stunned silence and hurt of memory,
is Christ’s profound word of mercy.
It is the hope of the Gospel—God’s forgiveness,
that deep river of grace.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Jesus offered mercy from the cross
on behalf of those who would kill him.
Even as mortal life left him,
he saw with eyes of mercy;
his great loving heart
stayed open toward us.
In the Gospel lesson this morning,
Peter, as always, in his urgent need to understand,
and his desire to reach spiritual heights,
asks Jesus about the limits of forgiveness.
How often should we do it?
As if by checking off a number of times,
we would have fulfilled some kind of forgiveness quota.
Jesus answers with a boundless expectation—
Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Seventy-seven is a number here that stands for countless times,
as much as you need to,
again and again and again,
until it’s done.
And yet we cannot do this without God’s help.
Human forgiveness has a limit, but God’s does not,
and Jesus asks us to be like the Divine One here.
Twice in the last month readings, Jesus has said
what we unleash, what we loose on earth
is loosed in heaven.
What we bind on earth is bound in heaven.
Here, the parable he tells speaks of mercy unbound—
A king forgives a servant, showing mercy, releasing someone
from his debt—in his freedom, the same servant
refuses to offer what has been offered him.
He abuses the gift that has been given to him.
It’s a frightening parable in some ways,
especially the end, for it suggests an angry God.
But for me, it speaks to the reality of what happens to us,
to our souls, when we don’t forgive, when we withhold compassion,
when we choose hatred, revenge, and violence,
as the servant did.
No one, no child born, is born to hatred—it has to be taught.
It hurts us, it hurts our souls, and in the end separates us from God.
Many battles have been fought since 9/11.
Perhaps the most serious one takes place in our souls,
in our spiritual lives; it is the spiritual battle we wage every day
in every choice between good and evil, or between mercy and revenge,
between sacrifice or selfishness, between love and violence,
between unloosing forgiveness, or binding ourselves with resentment.
My prayer is that forgiveness would open a new way for us
through memories and hurt, whether it is the memory of 9/11
or some other painful wound in our lives.
Every Sunday, we hold a memorial called the Great Thanksgiving.
We hear Christ’s word of grace for us, and we come to this table
to eat the bread of heaven, and drink the cup of salvation.
These are visible words of forgiveness.
We are fed with compassion by God himself.
And in turn, we are sent to bring this healing food
to a hungry, heartsick world.
We are called to be like the One who called out forgiveness
to those who hurt him most.
In Romans, this morning,
Saint Paul offers a great affirmation of the life we live as Christians:
“if we live , we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord.
So then, whether we live, or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
Live to Christ, then, today—and live into mercy.
Die to what holds us back from God, and choose life.
It is the way we can loose God’s forgiveness on earth,
the path of transformation for us, and for all the world.
Let us close then with silence,
in memory of those who have died, for everyone who has been hurt
by these events, and hope for God’s healing grace to come
as our shelter and our peace.