“Why is this night different from all other nights?” asks the youngest present on Passover. The response requires remembrance.
Remembrance is among the most courageous things we do. It is also among the most important. Remembrance connects us to our past, but in a way that guides our future. “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt and the Eternal our God brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” Remembrance tells us who we are. So the Passover Haggadah tells us, “Now if God had not brought out our ancestors from Egypt, then even we, our children, and our children’s children might still have been enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.”
“Do this remembering me,” Jesus told his disciples the night before his crucifixion. The central event of the Christian faith is forever linked to Jesus’ appeal, “Remember me when you do this.” And so, for centuries, people have come from East and West and North and South and feasted together at the Eucharistic Table, remembering Christ, his death and resurrection, offering up to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
The story of our faith, a story that stretches back into history for millennia, a story that speaks through the centuries, reminds us of this great fact: God works God’s redemptive purposes through all things. Through the injustice, violence and cruelty of bondage God worked God’s own redemptive purposes, as Passover reminds us. Through the injustice, violence and cruelty of crucifixion God worked God’s own redemptive purposes, as the Eucharist proclaims. God works even through that which God does not will.
Remember. Remember that which claims us beyond every competing loyalty: the way and will of God to deliver and liberate. Remember that which puts every competing allegiance in its place: the redemptive purposes of God revealed, we Christians believe, in Jesus of Nazareth. Remember.
This week, we will remember an event that marked this nation’s life forever. We will remember the injustice, the violence, the cruelty. We will remember the deaths of persons who were simply going about their day at work, or were on their way to shop, or were traveling to visit friends and family. We will remember the terror and hatred that lay across this day on the calendar like a deep shadow, a negation, like a bruise, a wound, like a smudge, an erasure.
Some of us will remember our anger. Some of us will remember our prayers. Some of us will remember our angry prayers. But one thing more we must remember, and never forget: God works God’s redemptive purposes through all things. God works even through that which God does not will.
Many people turned to the Scriptures of their faiths for comfort and guidance in the days following the attacks. I stood in the pulpit of Madison Square Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, preaching the Sunday immediately following that terrible day. Some of those who worshipped that Sunday found comfort and guidance in this text of Scripture: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose” (Rom 8:28). This passage does not affirm that “everything happens for a reason” -- though people sometimes mistakenly draw that lesson from it. Nor is the passage a superficial message that everything will work out just fine for religious believers -- that if you belong to the “right” tribe or club or sect, God will make life’s rough spots smooth. Rather, it is a reminder that however savage this life may be, however base and violent and dangerous, God works God’s redemptive purposes through everything. Nothing is beyond the reach of God’s outstretched arm. Nothing can ultimately defeat God’s redemptive mercy. And nothing can separate us from God’s reconciling love.
There were many, ten years ago, who found this passage from Romans so resonant they could hardly bear to read: “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom 8:36). But there were many more who heard, perhaps for the first time, the profound comfort of the words that followed: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
In the ten years since 9/11, people have worked for reconciliation and understanding among persons of different faiths and no faith at all; people have stretched their hearts and minds to accommodate a courage inspired by hope. In these ten years, we have remembered and we have allowed our remembrance to foster goodness instead of bitterness, greatness instead of fear. Yes, there are those who have capitalized on the anger and the anxiety in this post-9/11 world to preach their sermons of hatred, but they have not prevailed. “The better angels of our nature” (to recall Lincoln’s phrase) have endured through this time. And today, here, we can remember, and remembering we can affirm, softly but surely: God works God’s redemptive purposes through all things. God works even through that which God does not will.
There will be services of remembrance, concerts and memorials throughout the country. At Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, in mid-town Manhattan, the congregation will mark the events of 9/11, minute by minute, with moments of silence and prayers offered by firefighters and naval officers and people who lost friends and family members in the towers. Following the morning worship services, the congregation will host a large interfaith service for members of several Christian congregations, Jewish synagogues and Islamic communities.
As they and we remember together, we are also bearing witness: Evil will not triumph. Love will not be quenched. God works God’s redemptive purposes through all things. God works even through that which God does not will.