The following is a reflection on Exodus 14:19-31, the Hebrew Bible lesson assigned for September 11th, 2011 according to the Revised Common Lectionary. On this site there is also:
• A reflection on the Gospel Lesson for the same day;
• A version of the Prayers of the People based on the lessons of the day, and
• A longer litany-style prayer written for the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
This year we’ll all be telling the stories again. Where we were. What we did. How we felt.
When the terrorists struck a decade ago, I was in seminary–at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. I was in my class on Paul’s Letter to the Romans when a professor’s aid came in to tell us that something had happened–something about airplanes in New York–and that the Dean was canceling classes for the day. It was early enough in the semester that we were still on the first chapter of Romans.
I remember that a student raised her hand to ask a detailed question about Paul’s discussion on homosexual activity in Romans 1, and we had to wait for the professor to respond (which he did at length), before we could leave and figure out what was going on.
My wife worked on campus, and I went over to her office, with very little expectations on this “emergency” that we had briefly heard about. When I saw my wife, she had a hollow look in her eyes. She said that airplanes had brought down the World Trade Center.
I looked at her with an “oh, isn’t she cute” roll of the eyes, and I solemnly explained just how big the World Trade Center towers were, and that that couldn’t possibly happen. She took me in the next room where there was a television, and she promptly showed me the first of countless replays I would see of the first World Trade Center tower falling.
We lived in an apartment directly across the street from the national headquarters of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. As we’d go to bed at night helicopters were constantly flying overhead shining down their search lights, looking for God-knows-what.
We’d fall asleep to the 24 hour news, with the novel news-crawler at the bottom of the screen telling us of the predicted death toll and international reaction. We’d wake up and watch the same newscasts, and the same crawl. The death toll was the only thing that changed.
We lived a thousand miles from New York and DC, but we were filled with fear. The search lights spilling into our bedrooms at night didn’t help things.
With those memories flooding back into my consciousness ten years later, I’m struck by the first few verses of the Hebrew Bible lesson for September 11th: “The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. As so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.”
The Israelites would have been scared out of their wits. Not only had they witnessed plague and pestilence up-close-and-personal, but they had just heard that the children of Egypt had been snuffed out in their sleep. They made a break for it, and the army of an angry Pharaoh was coming after them.
They didn’t know what was going on. They didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t know what was going to happen tomorrow. They didn’t know that there would be a tomorrow.
And then darkness fell upon them.
They were in darkness, but the cloud–the angel of God–was with them in the darkness. They were not alone.
And God lit up the night.
There’s so much that’s going on in the narrative of the exodus. So much movement in the story, and so many theological gems to pluck up and look through.
But, this Sunday–this year–on this solemn anniversary–I’m humbly reminded that when darkness falls the hardest God lights up the night. God is with us. And God sees us through to the other side, moving anything in our path out of the way.
Even the Sea. Even the cold, dark Sea.