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Memorial Sermon for 9/11

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ September 24th, 2012

Sermon on Genesis 1:9-13;  St. John 7:37-39;  Revelation 22:1-5

9/11 Memorial Service

11 September 2012

Jesu Juva

It’s called “Freedom Plaza.”  I hope you have all had a chance to mourn and to rejoice at the original site of the World Trade Center.  Read the names of all those who died in the tragedy, memorialized around a magnificent pool.  See Freedom Tower, surpassing even the Empire State Building – a reminder that our beloved city would rise up from the ashes of 9/11.  But two things especially strike me about Freedom Plaza:  water and trees.  A pool of flowing water, the symbol of life.  And several trees, a stark contrast to the concrete jungle, bringing new signs of life to what was a mass grave.  Through water and trees, we find hope and healing, from Genesis to life eternal.

In Genesis, water and trees are the stuff of the third day of creation.  It was on the third day that God called the water “good” as He gathered the waters into seas and oceans.  Water means life, for this water would nourish everything created after it, even man himself.  With water in place, it was time for trees and other vegetation.  And so called created trees, vegetation, and every plant that yielded an increase.  So it was on the third day, the day also applied to the resurrection, that the cycle of death and life began.  For trees and other plants must die in the fall, only to rise again in the Spring.  You see why Freedom Plaza, with water and trees, is so profound?  I doubt the designer intended to echo the third day in Genesis, but one cannot miss the parallels:  out of death, there is life.  There was death and destruction on 9/11, beyond our worst nightmare.  But, eleven years later, our nation is hopefully stronger and safer.  And the water and trees of Freedom Plaza proclaim the good news that out of death and darkness, God brings light and life.

Jesus Himself echoed this idea in John 7 when He attended the annual Feast of Tabernacles.  Once a year, the Hebrews would gather in Jerusalem and live in tents for eight days, looking forward to the day that the very Word of God would become flesh and tabernacle among us in the flesh and blood of Christ.  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, the priest lead the people in procession to the high point of the Temple Mount.  The people followed, waving torches that lit the night sky.  The priests poured water around the base of the Temple, and let it flow to the River Kidron.  It was on this day of lights and water, a celebration of life, that Jesus cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (7:37).  You who suffered and still suffer from the events of 9/11 know thirst.  First responders and others were physically thirsty, but there is a deeper thirst at work here:  the thirst for life itself, especially as the foundations of our society crumble all around us.  See how this thirst is satisfied in Christ, the One who died for you, who rose for you, and who lives for you.  He baptizes you into His name, so that you have already crossed over from death to life.  Christ preaches the word of forgiveness to you, bringing the water of life in the midst of debris and destruction.  He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink, to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

And unlike all other liquids, which dry out and make us thirst again, the water and trees of life that Jesus brings quench our thirst forever.  In our second lesson, St. John says that there was a river of the water of life in heaven, clear as crystal.  And on either side of the river, was the tree of life.  It sounds like Genesis all over again, doesn’t it?  Only better.  For in heaven, there is no forbidden Tree of Knowledge, but only the Tree of Life, which is Christ.  And then the following phrase, which is richest and purest Gospel for all who suffered on 9/11:  “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (v. 2).  Green means life.  It says that the God who created trees on the third day is still watching over and preserving all living things, from the smallest tree that survived 9/11 to the mighty oaks of California and ocean waters.  As we contemplate the events of 9/11, we think of the ongoing need for healing.  That loved one whom we miss.  That near-brush with death on the lower floors of the towers, which comes flooding back to us when we see “11 September” on the calendar.  But as the leaves of the trees at Freedom Plaza proclaim life, so the leaves of this heavenly tree preach the good news that Christ Himself brings healing to our grief, hope in the midst of despair, and life to this dying world.

So as you contemplate the water and trees of Freedom Plaza, remember that God the Father created water and trees and the source and summit of life in this creation.  Rejoice that He sent His Son as the Water of Life to die on the Tree of Life.  And look forward to the day that God will bring us to the heavenly Jerusalem, to live forever in the presence of the river of life and the tree of life.  For in the new heaven and the new earth, “[God] will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).

God grant it even unto us, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, Queens, New York City

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