Throughout the Scripture we find places where the people of God built altars. Sometimes, these were directly connected to houses of worship, but often, they were places of remembrance. When individuals and communities experienced unique encounters with God, an altar would be set up to remember that experience and honor God in the future.
Occasionally, people would erect standing stones, large stones placed in an upright position that made it clear it was done by human hands. At other times, piles of stones would be made for the same purpose. This way, along with creating places to remember the mighty acts of God, symbols were established that helped encourage the telling of the story to future generations. As people traveled, a child or new member to the community might see these altars and stones and ask, “What happened here?”
For me, one of the most significant parts of these symbols was their redemptive focus. Instead of merely being remembrances of events, they were places to remember God’s activity in the midst of human experience, even in the face of painful circumstances.
Today, many of us will gather in worship and remember. We will remember God’s activity in our lives. We will remember the saving act of Jesus Christ and the acts of so many followers of Christ that made the Good News known throughout the world. We will remember our corporate and personal history with God and give thanks for God’s activity in our story. And, being the tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, we will remember those images and stories as well.
It is important for us to remember significant days of our journey, even days of great pain, but as we remember, we must keep in mind that we are a people whose trust and hope is in the Lord. We can reflect on the tragic loss that occurred that day, on those who lost their lives, and on those who gave of themselves to respond. We can pause to ponder the brokenness of our world, the horror of violence and the pain of devastating loss. We can do all these things, but as people of faith, we do them as a form of sacred remembrance.
We do not remember to sensationalize the past, nor is our recollection just an expression of patriotism. We certainly do not remember for the sake of anger and hatred. We are a people who do not grieve as the world grieves. We remember so that we, like all those who went before us, can affirm God’s activity in our past and in our present. We look back, so that we can look forward, believing in God’s promises for our future.
This does not mean that we are not filled with deep emotion, or that we deny our feelings. Rather, we own those emotions and feelings and present them to God. We allow our pain to become a passion for change. Where we would be tempted to embrace anger, we choose to take hold of peace. Where we would want to fracture relationships, we seek to build them instead. We choose to look for God in the midst of our story, so that we can tell God’s story in the face of our adversity.
None of us who recall the images and events of that day, will likely forget the fear, pain and emptiness we felt. Hopefully, we will not forget the images of compassion and service we saw that day as well. Hopefully, we will not lose sight of what held us together and Who holds us in the palm of his hand today as he did that day. Then, as those who remember, not just events, but the actions of God and people who demonstrated the heart of God, we can work for a better world. We can choose to be people who demonstrate divine love, compassion and peace.
Today, we remember, but then it is time to go to work and be the people of God and seek God’s will in our day. It is the time to be the city set on a hill that cannot be hid, a beacon of light to a darkened world. It is the time to demonstrate by word and deed that there is another way, a way that leads to life. May our sacred remembrance lead us all to holy actions that future generations may look back and remember what God did to bless the world through us.
Peace be with you, with the world and with us all.