There are times when the spot-on rightness of the Lectionary can dazzle you (as a reminder, our lectionary cycle was set up by an ecumenical body of Canadian and American churches in 1992 as a way to ensure that Christians of all stripes were at least hearing the same scripture on Sundays, and adopted by General Convention in 2006). Today, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, features this selection from Psalm 55:
I am shaken by the noise of the enemy *
and by the pressure of the wicked;
For they have cast an evil spell upon me *
and are set against me in fury.
My heart quakes within me, *
and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling have come over me, *
and horror overwhelms me.
Remember how you felt that morning 20 years ago (if you’re old enough to remember it, of course)? Doesn’t that describe to a tee the confusion, the sorrow, the pervasive sense of horror? Oh, sure, later came anger and a dozen other emotions (the Psalm also goes on to those emotions, a few verses later), but that Tuesday morning, all any of us really felt was stunned terror and confused sadness. I remember my mom was on the phone to me before work, and she said something like ‘They must be filming a movie in New York, because they just showed the strangest things on the news, a plane crashing into that building you took us up a few years ago when we visited you in New Haven, the tall one?’ Followed, 30 seconds later, by screaming ‘It’s not a movie, it’s not a movie, turn on the news, turn on the news.’ And I watched, in horror, for the rest of the morning/ day/ week, along with all the rest of us.
So this unutterably appropriate Psalm, chosen for today almost a decade before 9/11, might be a good way for us to look at how to handle such moments. It acknowledges them, doesn’t try to hide or pretty up the rawness of the moment. It acknowledges that the first thing we want to do is to pretend it’s not happening (vss 7-9), and the almost universal human instinct to grow angry and look for villains (vss 13-16). It acknowledges the need to ask ‘where were the people who were supposed to keep us safe?’ (vs 11) and the weariness of fighting battles one never asked for or understood (vs 19). All of that feels very familiar, doesn’t it? But above all, over and over again, it says that the answer to such moments of terror and pain and inexplicable confusion is to turn to God. ‘Cast your burden upon the Lord: He will sustain you.’ (vs 24).
Our idolatrous temptation is to seek a man, an ideology, an explanation which will make such pain go away, set things right, ‘fix it.’ But as every parent who’s ever tried fixing a broken teen’s heart knows, there is no fixing of some things. Some things you just have to survive and turn to the Lord for the strength to do so. Such is, still, the commemoration we’re about this morning. Yes, we have a range of emotions–horror, denial, anger. But in the end, no one will get us through but only God Himself. Turn to Him, cast your burden on Him–it works. Really, I promise. Eventually.