Yesterday I attended a commemorative concert in honor of our memory of September 11, 2001. I heard two spectacular pieces that recalled the horror of that day. After the performance, I asked the composer of one of the pieces why there was no redemptive message. It has been ten years since we watched those towers collapse, and I felt that by this time someone should have a redemptive message about the day. As I listened and watched during the concert, I yearned for redemption, and found little hope in the performance.
The program consisted of two pieces: Requiem for 9/11(2003) by Hollis Thoms and Ashes, Ashes by Timothy Nohe. The requiem borrowed its form from Bach’s cantatas while Nohe’s piece was a mixed media presentation which included actual ashes from the day as part of a mostly musical performance. Both pieces dramatically evoked the painful experience of terror, dismay, despair, anguish, fear and shock we all felt that September morning ten years ago. They brought back such intense memories that it was almost like returning to that day. In fact, they were profound laments that allowed us all to grieve again with almost the same intensity we felt so long ago. No wonder I ached for redemption.
It isn’t true that the pieces offered no hope at all. The Requiem concluded with a piece based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke which ended with the words, (English translation) “Yet there is one who holds us as we fall Eternally in his hands’ tenderness.” Ashes, Ashes concluded with a soaring observation of the bright sunny Wednesday which followed that dark Tuesday. Each composer attempted to remind listeners that the world did not lose all hope that day. Yet even as I was leaving the building I still hungered for a message of redemption. Like a vague ache that simply won’t go away, this feeling gnawed at me all evening.
This morning, I realize that my longing arose not from a deficit in either piece, but rather from the power of these pieces. They are profound laments that truly engage each hearer in deep grieving. These pieces bring back the moment, the imagery, the heart’s cry of September 11, and they make each hearer desire the redemption that such an atrocity calls for. These pieces demand that we seek redemption, not revenge, and that is their real power.
When Jesus walked on earth, he predicted that there would be days like September 11. He warned us that evil personified in people would assault us. He told us to expect that evil will always be inextricably woven into our days on earth. He predicted grief and pain in every human life. However, the life, death and resurrection of Christ, unlike the laments for September 11, do not leave us feeling hopeless. The crucifixion of Christ was a day even darker and more awful than September 11, but the darkness of that day was overpowered by the brightness and the hope of Easter morning. It is the resurrection power of Christ that redeems the day of crucifixion and redeems all of us. The hope we enjoy because of the resurrection is the reason we call the dark day of the crucifixion “good.”
I am glad that I had to remember September 11 so vividly, and I am glad that the composers forced me to remember what it was like to feel the pain and despair of that day. That deep, dark, brutal, anguished memory forced me to remember that our hope to defeat such evil does not lie in diplomacy or military action, necessary and important as they are. Our hope is in the risen Christ who holds each of us in his everlasting arms and carries us through evil days. As the apostle Paul reminds us, whether we live or die, it is all about Christ. That is the hope that transcends and overcomes the evil of September 11.