Another September 11th has passed, a date of national and global significance ever since the terrifying events which darkened that bright morning back in 2001. Sadly and predictably, as the years have gone by, many of us are having a harder time remembering that day in a way that honors its significance, despite our heart-felt promises to “never forget.” More and more, the day has become a sadly but briefly recalled fact of history, and with each anniversary, we're dedicating fewer and fewer moments to a fading, wistful contemplation of where we were and what we were doing the morning it felt like the sky was not only falling on us, but attacking us. But for people who had friends or family right there in the midst of the blood and fire of that nightmare of a day, the memories stay fresh and vital. Every September 11th anniversary makes that day in 2001 feel like it was yesterday. They are the ones who are keeping the promise to never forget. We should learn from their example.
As our fading remembrance of September 11th, 2001 demonstrates, the anniversaries of staggering, historically significant events can pass by without our batting our easily-distracted eyes. This diminishing remembrance is possible even with regard to the most significant events in all of human history, ones to which every single human being, past, present or future, are personally, vitally, and everlastingly connected. These are the events centering on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.
Think for a few minutes of the inestimably important truths we so easily take for granted, even as Christians: Jesus Christ is God become human; he lived a sinless life; he took upon himself as a substitutionary sacrifice the sin and righteous wrath that sinners deserve from a relentlessly righteous and good God; he did so on behalf of all who by God’s grace would ever be brought to faith in him, from every people in the world; after his crucifixion and burial, he rose to life, every bit as much flesh and blood true human being before he died, never having sacrificed his deity to do so; he’s alive right now, this second, reigning over all of life and preparing the world for his return; when he does return, the world will feel the fullness of all that he already accomplished in his redemptive work in this world; this very moment, he is sustaining the universe by his power; you’re alive right now because he is sustaining your life; and he promises that if you’re trusting in him by faith, you will never really die. Every Christian knows these things and believes these things. Two millenniums should not be anywhere near enough time for a people in successive generations to forget. Yet we do.
We remember the life and work of our Lord Jesus as a fact of history for which we’re grateful, but whose present, abiding significance we seldom feel sufficiently. So how are we to remember, as the days stretch on and as life’s circumstances can make our Savior feel more than worlds and millennia away? God’s given us very simple, but supremely important, ways to do so. It’s a lot like standing next to a skyscraper.
I remember in eighth grade traveling from my Christian school in Massachusetts to New York City, to tour the Statue of Liberty and the Two Towers. It was one of the best field trips ever! I can’t remember which tower we toured, but I remember vividly the rush my friends and teachers and I felt we felt as the big elevator rattle and rocket its way toward the top, and the blast of cold air that greeted us at the top to help us adjust to the new altitude. I remember leaning on the windows to look below. It was surreal. But as cool as being that high in the sky was, the view that made the biggest impression in my mind was the view from street level.
If you’re standing right next to a building that size, it’s not that impressive. The only thing that might capture your attention is the wad of gum some unscrupulous pedestrian smooshed into the outer wall on his busy way to work. But when you take a few steps back and look up – oh my. From this vantage point, the view is truly staggering. The same building that seemed only a moment ago to be not that big of a deal, whose only point of interest was the way someone defaced it, now fills your entire field of vision. It looms over you and challenges your sense of balance. It actually looks like the tower is leaning over you and it’s extremely difficult not to be moved, literally, as you survey the immense structure towering above you. As Christians, we need to learn to take a few steps back in our soul, and to look up, to see through the eyes of faith the staggering significance of who Jesus is and what he’s done. The Sabbath day is designed to let us look up in that way all day, with a particularly clear and vivid view. But we need these breathtaking glimpses throughout the week as well. We can take in such views as we take time, truly take time, to pray, to search God’s holy word, and simply to talk of our Savior with others, and to make our hearts look high and long upon the most significant fact in all of life and history: Jesus is alive.
Please repeat that statement in your heart several times, each time with more emphasis on each word – do it out loud if appropriate to your current location, and maybe even if not! “Jesus is alive.” Kind of puts things in proper perspective, no?
My connection to September 11th, 2001 is not as deep as that felt by those who lost loved ones that day. It is eerie to know that I once stood in one of the buildings that crumbled and collapsed, burning to the ground. But no matter what our connection to that day of horror and heroism, it is a date that should remembered with solemn respect and mournful contemplation. And even more fundamentally, and as a means of framing and properly interpreting the significance of September 11th, let’s remember, truly and personally and frequently, the person and work of our risen Savior.
Whatever in life rises or falls, whoever in our lives comes or goes, the word of the Lord endures forever, and it tells us throughout the staggering truth that gives stability to our souls and a path and purpose to our daily walk, no matter how long that lasts in this world and no matter what falls down or apart around us. Jesus is alive. Let’s remember to look at life this way; let’s remember to live life this way.