There are always things we do not want to forget. There are always people that we always want to remember and honor. There are always lessons from the past that we want to build upon. There is nothing in our past that is tragic that we want to define or confine us.
9-11 was one of our collective travesties and tragedies and it brought to light the best of those folks who united across all sorts of lines to make a positive difference in the darkness.
Tragedies and travesties continue around the world. Our past is cluttered with them. We have perpetrated some as a people. Our ancestors from most every culture have done so, likewise.
We do not live in shame or regret. But we do not forget our shame or regret. We find redemption, reconciliation, and resolve to be better people individually and collectively by the grace of God.
We look for areas where we, in agreement, can stand together and work together.
We are human. We are frail. My theology teaches that we a "mark-missers (sinners in translation)." But we are also beloved and called.
Grace, mercy, and peace are God's gifts to us in the gaps that our resolve cannot fill. As a follower of Jesus, I am always looking through the lenses of God's desire for the redemption of everyone and everything, the call to a possibility and necessity of mind/life change (repentance) as good news, and the message of the rule of God (the Kingdom) as always present and imminent in every situation.
That is my bias and leaning and it opens doors to vast possibilities of love in the presence of hate, peace in days of war, hope in times of despair, light in darkness, possibilities at the place of dead-ends, handshakes and hugs when the gloves are off, and salt on the unseasoned mundanity of humanity.
9-11 was a day and is an emergency number.
We do not live in a world dominated and ruled by emergency, but possibility.
Let us live!
We have a ministry of life and resurrection, initiated and modeled by the one who is ever present as resurrection and life. A few observation on that from a remarkable encounter with death in John 11:
First, Jesus waited for the right moment to arrive and everyone else considered, as any person driven by logic would, that it was too late.
Martha felt it was late, but not too late. She has a sense that God would answer Jesus' most outlandish prayers.
Jesus tells her that her brother would rise again. She thinks he is speaking about the future resurrection of all the dead. He knows he means today.
Does she think he is being dismissive or hyper-spiritual as some folks receive us when we are being, well, dismissive or hyper-spiritual ?
Is she saying something like this?
"I know that, but it only helps a little bit now. I want my brother back."
Jesus does not, immediately, clarify or correct that misconception. Rather, he refers to the power and hope of his presence and turns death on its head, spins it around, and sucks all of the power out of it.
"I am ...." is present, now. It is a present reality.
It is not yesterday, or tomorrow when spiritual life ignites a fire of life and obliterates the ultimate power of death to disable us and lay us in the ground of despair and hopeless termination. It is not even today; it is a deeper, more powerful, "NOW!"
I am THE resurrection and THE life!
Such an audacious claim he makes. Eternity is present and to prove it, he is about to do something amazing to human eyes, but relatively trivial from an eternal perspective. He will restore physical life to his friend.
Nothing is trivial to God when God incarnates Himself into our experience of sorrow and mundane pan. He incorporates all that he is into a package of vulnerability and transcends.
Here is how A. T. Robertson exegetes verse 25:
"I am the resurrection and the life (Egw eimi h anastasi kai h zwh). This reply is startling enough. They are not mere doctrines about future events, but present realities in Jesus himself. "The Resurrection is one manifestation of the Life: it is involved in the Life" (Westcott). Note the article with both anastasi and zwh. Jesus had taught the future resurrection often ( Luke 6:39 ), but here he means more, even that Lazarus is now alive. Though he die (kan apoqanh). "Even if he die," condition (concession) of third class with kai ean (kan) and the second aorist active subjunctive of apoqnhskw (physical death, he means). Yet shall he live (zhsetai). Future middle of zaw (spiritual life, of course)." (http://m.biblestudytools.com/…/roberts…/john/john-11-25.html)
Then, Jesus makes a claim that requires something beyond mere ascent, "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."
Never die? Live when dead?
"Do you believe this?"
He drives the arrow of faith inquiry into her heart of grief and probes for her "buy in."
In Greek, the probe is two words, "pisteuei touto."
She buys in, hook, line, and sinker - with more than he even asked of her, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world."
Yes. Lord (Nai, kurie).
Again, Dr. Robertson observes, " She had heroic faith and makes now her own confession of faith in words that outrank those of Peter in Matthew 16:16 because she makes hers with her brother dead now four days and with the hope that Jesus will raise him up now. I have believed (pepisteuka). Perfect active indicative of pisteuw. It is my settled and firm faith."
It is all about who he is and who he is when he is present makes a huge deal in any circumstance.
Where he is present, there is life.
Mary comes and there is a crowd of consolers, well meaning, good hearted, and he is touched by grief and agitated by their howling.
Something powerful happens. Knowing what he knows and who he is, he enters into the crowd of mourners and groans in spirit (v33).
Robertson observes his own reaction and the word for groaning as, "to snort with anger like a horse. It occurs in the LXX ( Daniel 11:30 ) for violent displeasure. The notion of indignation is present in the other examples of the word in the N.T. ( Mark 1:43 ; Mark 14:5 ; Matthew 9:30 ). So it seems best to see that sense here and in verse 11:38 . The presence of these Jews, the grief of Mary, Christ's own concern, the problem of the raising of Lazarus--all greatly agitated the spirit of Jesus (locative case twi pneumati). He struggled for self-control. Was troubled (etaraxen eauton). First aorist active indicative of tarassw, old verb to disturb, to agitate, with the reflexive pronoun, "he agitated himself" (not passive voice, not middle). "His sympathy with the weeping sister and the wailing crowd caused this deep emotion" (Dods). Some indignation at the loud wailing would only add to the agitation of Jesus.
He has a deep, emotional response to everything that is happening, all the pain, confusion, misconception, hopelessness --- all of it. It is an inner upheaval and he struggles with it and expresses it.
So, in verse, 34, he asks, "Where have you laid him?"
We have started with the very present, eternal reality of life that transcends death. We have passed through the crowd and experienced the emotions that are so overwhelming in the hour of despair and death. Now, Jesus confronts the physical reality of death. he wants to be taken to the tomb.
Then, Jesus wept!
"... (edakrusen o Ihsou). Ingressive first aorist active indicative of dakruw, old verb from dakru or dakruon, a tear ."
It was not wailing. That would be cultural and sometimes, contrived. Anyone could be employed or recruited to wail and howl with or without emotional engagement. Everyone in the community showed up and did that. It was expected.
Jesus' weeping was real. It was deep. It was personal. It was engaged. It welled up from within and flowed out through his eyes and his voice.
It was with strong crying and tears that he confronted the tomb.
It is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is never short on meaning.
We have one to weep with us. His weeping and engagement in our humanity is in light of the reality of his life-giving presence. He knows our hope, but also our feelings of hopelessness and enters in. He avoids nothing of our human experience - spiritual, emotional, physical - He is present for us and with us.
The observation of the crowd was how much he loved Lazarus (epilei) with depths of affection and brotherly love.
Is that, perhaps, how we might be present for others in their pain?
We must be present in love.
Jesus said very little that day, but he said so much.
He used few words.
He did much.
He loved much.
"Lazarus, come forth," was a pretty powerful statement - short, sweet, and to the point.
He prays. It is a powerful and "desperate" prayer of faith to his Father to whom he defers to exercise the power through him and his words. But he does not wrestle in this prayer. in fact, he gives thanks for being heard, which indicates he has probably been praying all along.
In fact, his groaning was a prayer (See Romans 8:26 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/…).
Surrounded by doubters - legitimate doubters, one might argue, he steps out on faith. After all, Lazarus was a fourth-day dead man. That was the tradition point of no return. He was grave-yard dead and beyond hope.
It must have been by design that Jesus allowed his friend to get to that point. His Father would make a similar sacrifice of His Son in a a few days.
He calls us forth to life where there is no expectation or hope of life. We may also call life forth from the tombs of despair all around us.
"Again groaning in himself ..." in that context, he calls for the stone to be removed ... still groaning, still praying, still experiencing the pain and doubt around him.
That is always the context of the priestly ministry of presence in a doubting and despairing world.
" 'Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?' So they took away the stone."
He wants people to see the glory of God!
He wants us to experience glory in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death.
He calls us to be an embodiment of his very presence of life in the world show forth the glory of God.
""Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
Robertson says there is a "purpose clause" here embedded in the Greek. (Of course, he is speaking Aramaic and we don't have that quote as such).
"Lazarus, come forth!"
" (Lazare, deuro exw). 'Hither out.' No verb, only the two adverbs.
Quickly! Out of there!
It does not take many words. It doesn't even take a complete sentence! It takes much presence and engagement.
He says it with a loud voice.
He wants to be heard now by the crowds.
It can drain us, but it can also fill us.
" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, 'Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'"
Living people need not be wrapped in grave clothes.
There is still work to be done to help people realize that they have life after resurrection.
There is a process to realizing freedom and walking around in it. The liberation process is an ongoing ministry.
We are told that a polarization was the response. Many believed, "but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done ..."
Their reaction had nothing to do with whether or not they believed in what had happened. Their reaction was, "What will this do to our position of power? How will the Romans react? Will we lose our status? Will we lose our favored position?"
In the ministry of liberation, life, and resurrection, many will be believe, many will be set free, and some, in power, who do not care about the dead and dying, but only their own power, will react and try to kill the movement of life.
Count on it and do it anyway!
"Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.'"
(John 11:21-27 ESV)
So many expressions have been offered with deep feelings and deeper prayers. We've grown; we've; learned a lot; we've learned that we need to grow and learn more.
I heard the very first report on Interstate 5 as I was driving to the Bay Area. I heard it and my heart sank. I suspected the worst and it was the worst .... but immediately, I thought the death toll would be at least 50,000.
It was not 50,000 and that is part of the heart of the story of bravery, sacrifice, and determination.
What shocked us to the socks of our souls also inspired us in ways we cannot have imagined. Horror and Honor walked hand in hand through the rubble of the towers.
My worst fears were not fully realized -- that we would live in fear and suspicion. We've balanced that. We know it does not work and cannot be sustained.
We created an entity and gave it a nationalistic name that made me cringe and gave it lots of power and, for a while, we seemed willing to surrender much of our freedom for safety. But we are coming out of that cloud and that is good. Safety is worthless if we are not free.
We have started to look each other in the eye and have tried to understand each other.
We still stand in awe of those who served and bow in grief over those who were lost.
Not all stories would go into the Gospel According to Readers Digest or Guideposts for their metaphorical thunk! Many would, but many lives were ordinary ... decent ... loved ... valued ... quiet and unremarkable.
All sorts of people died.
Too many people died.
I joined the throngs who spouted chauvinistic mutterings and pronouncements for a time.
"Don't mess with America!"
But it was, at the top of the tower, "Windows on the World" where the wheel turned and diners were always moving in every direction and the nations gathered at the tower.
They died from so many nations and religions and persuasions. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, Republicans, Democrats, Anglo-Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, First Nation Americans, all died.
And people are still dying from the repercussions of that days --- many, many thousands, tens of thousands of men, women, and children.
We've gone to war and it has not always worked out so well and now we want to think very, very carefully before we go to war. That is good.
Successes and failures as we count successes and failures are on the books.
911 -- another Tuesday ... just another Tuesday and a few people with an evil plan and a perverted understanding of their own book (We could concoct a rationale from our book and books too!), those few changed the day and the world in a few short minutes.
We have learned a deeper appreciation for those who offer themselves in service - our military personnel, our police officers, our first responders and all those who walk into the fire while others are escaping.
Heroes! They are not heroic every day, but they are ready to be heroic. They don't emerge on ordinary days or in safety. They shine in the darkness.
Every traffic stop, every fire call, every patrol, every moment is a potential heroic moment that no one wants. Every day heroism and bravery is in the willingness to be present in the moment "in harms's way."
What is America? We asked it and are still asking it. America is a very big idea born of big ideas and rooted the fertile soil of potential and opportunity.
We have a "Welcome" sign posted over our door and we are trying to figure out what that means.
Randy Sparks sang, "On September the eleventh, we became just Americans. " ( Listen and read the lyrics in the link: http://noendingjourney.blogspot.com/…/02/just-americans.html)
911, 12 years later.
We were glued to television and radio. Something died inside of us and much was born. Even that which died was reborn.
We were shaken but we did not come off our foundations.
So many moments.
On Saturday Night Live, Paul Simon sang, "The Boxer" surrounded by a company of heroes from New York's police and fire fighters.
Lorne Michaels asked Mayor Rudy Giuliani a little later if it was OK to be funny again and the Mayor, smiling asked, "Why start now?" And we got back to business.
It is hard to be one people as a nation. We have to work at it, but we must.
May God bless this day. May it always be sacred and reflective. May my tribe of fellow travelers who follow Jesus be out front with others who walk the path of peace and understanding. We have a witness and part of that witness is that we join in prayer for the peace of the city for all who come and go.
God bless America and all that America was intended to be even when we did not fully understand or appreciate all of those intentions.