“For judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13
The first plane crashed into the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. 17 years ago. At that time and unbeknownst to us, that moment was just the beginning of one of the worst days in our history. I rushed out to Park Avenue with a clear view of the WTC tower being devoured by smoke and flames. Then seemingly like slow motion, I saw another plane coming down the Hudson River and crashing into the second tower at 9:03 a.m. A surreal cry of anguish blurted out from the gathered crowd. “No it can’t be true!” “What just happened?” cried another. ”This is an act of war.” Then quietly and quickly, we all moved toward connecting with our loved ones.
The gathering sorrow had just begun. At 9:59, shockingly the first tower collapsed in clouds of dust, debris and cremated remains, which began its grim flow through the air into northern Manhattan. Sirens blared and firetrucks were crushed, while a cloud of ash overwhelmed the thousands trying to escape the madness. The sorrow had just begun. At 10:28 the north tower lost its structural integrity and began the awful descent into dust. But not before many people leapt to their death from the fiery holocaust.
Many people do not realize that 9/11 /01 was the greatest rescue evacuation in the history of the FDNY. Thousands of people were ushered out of the buildings at great risk to the first responders. As one reporter noted, the first responders were running into danger as everyone else was fleeing. 343 FDNY, 69 other first responders, and 2996 civilians were killed that day.
Remembering each anniversary is a painful exercise as we honor those who made the “ultimate sacrifice.” I still gather at our local firehouse on 9/11, where I had served as chaplain during the months following the tragedy--counselling with widows and children, and helping to bury the 9 firefighters who perished. (In some cases, all we had to bury was a boot, a helmet, or a shoe.) This year, I reconnected with three grown sons of the fallen, who each just finished the FDNY academy and have joined the department. I was struck with their resilience and strength that came out of this tragedy.
Six years ago our son Max joined the ranks of the FDNY—he is now an ever-present reminder to us each time he goes to a fire, that his life could be in danger as he helps others escape from danger. Like first responders, we are all called into the world to help those who are broken, stranded, wounded, addicted, lost, afraid or poor. We who belong to Jesus should be the first responders in our neighborhoods, with our families and in our country. “Loving our neighbors as ourselves” is the banner to which Christ calls us....so that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus “by the love we have for one another.”
As we recall 9/11, remembering that dreadful day, it is also a time to reflect on the love of God, who in the midst of confusion, death, and sorrow, reminds us that we are loved. On that “Great Day,” we will be received with joy as we hear the final bell rung with these words flowing through our hearts: "Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Thankful for God’s mercy which triumphs over judgment,