The Church has celebrated the Festival of All Saints since at least the 8th century. While there are many layers of meaning to the observance, remembering those who have died is a big part of the day. In a culture that seeks to avoid death, we embrace it and hear that “our tears will be wiped away” that “those who mourn will be comforted.” It seems a far-off promise when the wounds are fresh or when long-standing. Perhaps the tears and the mourning are all we have left to remember; maybe we feel we must hang on to them to hang on to our loved ones. Where are the dead – now? The answer is revealed in Christ and the mysterious communion of saints. Christ is Lord of the living and the dead, and that knits us together in this very moment.
Remember. Never forget. These are the calls, perhaps even commands, of September 11 ever since that fateful day in 2001 when towers fell, lives were lost, and the world changed. We should indeed remember and honor those who died; and we should never forget the “heroes” (we call them saints in the church) who ran toward the destruction, risking their lives – which many of them lost – to save others.
The church is good at remembrance, we do it all the time. We remember saints (those flawed followers of Jesus who set an example for us to follow) on the day of their death. We remember the life of Jesus in our liturgical calendar.
At the center of our life together, we gather around a table with bread and wine “in remembrance” of Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. The mystery of faith that is proclaimed as we remember is, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Notice how this remembrance looks forward, not back, at an event that continues to shape us. Notice how remembering the tragedy, pain, and death on the cross serve to fuel present and future hope. Remembrance at the table of Christ does not revisit the past grief, nor does it work to stoke unresolved blame or anger over the past event. The remembrance of the Last Supper is an active remembrance that builds hope and celebrates the new life that arises in the wake of tragedy and pain. That is instructive for our efforts to remember; to never forget 9/11.
If what we remember, what we will not forget, is the rage and anger that filled us all that fateful day; if all we can remember is our grieving hearts and our longing for retribution; if our memory provides for seeds of hate and revenge, then our remembrance serves no purpose other than to enslave us.
If however, we can remember with all solemnity those who died in the attack and find compassion for the world through hearts open to pain; if we can remember those who gave their lives to save others, and glean from that a reminder of how we should face the current destruction of this world with courage and grace, we will have remembered well and hope will be the result.
Our world, at this moment, groans in pain through one disaster after another; it suffers under the divisions we place between each other. Remember that day in 2001 when, in the midst of all the destruction and loss, people came together and loved one another. God brought hope out of the ashes. God is doing that all the time.
copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2017