Where is God? A Reflection for the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

On one hand it is hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since the world changed on 9/11. For some of us, we remember as if it where this morning; we remember where we were, who we were with and what we were doing. 9/11 has become one of those symbols that marks an end and a beginning, just like B.C. and A.D. On the other hand, for a large segment of the population it doesn’t seem like yesterday because it’s all they have known. For virtually anyone under the age of twenty, a post-9/11 world has been their only world. Therefore I think it is important, for theological reasons, that we always remember September 11, 2001 for several reasons. We remember 9/11 for the loss of life in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We remember that the world changed very quickly, or we became aware of changes that were already underway. We remember because 9/11 brought to the forefront some very important questions: geopolitical, military, and most of all, theological. 

I was in seminary on September 11, 2001, so in a very real way my ministry has been framed by a post-9/11 worldview. But more than anything, I remember how pre-occupied we were with the question of where. Where are my loved ones? Where is the next attack going to happen? Where is this all coming from? Where is Osama bin Laden? Where is God in all this? I was in my third year of serving a church and I remember how full churches were after the attacks, at least for a little while. I think people came together in churches for solidarity and perhaps even to protest militant Islam. I also think people came together seeking answers to the questions of where and why: where is God and why did he let this happen? Remembering 9/11 as a religious event is to ask those questions again.

During the week at St Timothy’s, a bell rings eighteen times at noon and six o’clock. Traditionally it is rung early in the morning as well. The peals of the bell call people to pray the Angelus, or the Memorial of the Incarnation. A series of prayers that point our devotion to the Virgin Mary and the fruit of her womb – the Word made Flesh that dwelt among us. The creative power of God has come to us forever answering our persistent question of where. Before he died, the Incarnate Word of God instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood – the Holy Eucharist – to perpetually answer our question of where he is. He is here. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christ is everywhere, with all people, and at all times. But by the power of that same Spirit, the substance of the Crucified Body and Blood of Jesus is found in a particular place and at a particular time in the Holy Eucharist. 

The Crucified Body, the Broken Body, the Body that endured pain and suffering and evil, that body, is given to us. When we see the horrors of this world, the unthinkable acts of terror and evil, and we ask where is God, we are given a Broken Body. Here. Here is God. He has already endured what we can’t imagine and He presents His Victory as often as we remember Him. In the Holy Eucharist is not only the victory over terrorism but the Victim of terrorism. In the Holy Eucharist we find both the Victim and Victor of everything. Here. 

That is why the mass is so central to our life at St Timothy’s, because it answers that most important question: God is here. That is why the admittedly strange and, for some, uncomfortable devotion of Benediction at the end of Evensong this Sunday is so important. We are shown, blessed, and given the opportunity to adore the Sacramental Presence, that wonderful and mysterious way God has chosen to be with us always.

Fifteen years later, let us remember the events of 9/11. Let us pray for those who have died. Let us pray for an end of terrorism and the conversion of hearts. Let us remember the important questions that were thrust upon our lips. And let us give thanks in the answer. He is here.

Post Script: A holy card of Our Lady of Sorrows is available for everyone today. Painted by Lewis Williams, it shows the traditional image of Our Lady of Sorrows, but instead of a pierced heart, there is a haunting, even disturbing image of the World Trade Center towers on fire.