3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
This Sunday marks the twenty-first anniversary of 9/11. Like most people I can remember where I was when that tragedy unfolded and my panic in trying to learn if my sister, who worked close to the Pentagon, was harmed when a hijacked American Airlines airplane crashed into the building. As the day progressed so many lives were touched in indelible ways that even two decades later it seems everyone has a story connected to the losses sustained that day. My sister’s college roommate lost an uncle who was a firefighter, a ministry colleague recalls walking miles back to Queens coated in ash, a former employer in finance lost cherished friends, these are the people I know but in a small sense these are the experiences of a nation shaken with loss.
Reflecting back twenty years I remember two stark things about the USA in the aftermath: we were united in our nationalism and pointed in our prejudice. Not unlike the pandemic days of Coronavirus where Asian Americans reported an uptick in racially motivated attacks, Muslim and Arab Americans became the target of hatred and violence following 9/11 and that prejudice didn’t abate. In our zeal to be a proud, united people we also fell into the trap of using tragedy and fear as an excuse to mistreat our fellow Americans. Sadly, that legacy continues.
I am worried about our nation that is torn asunder by polarization and how our churches feel this acutely. Whether it manifests as conflict within a church or struggle within the community, as people of God we are called to universal compassion. Our first response to suffering must be compassion and comfort. When we are a compassionate and comforting people, our energy focuses not on punishment, separation, or judgment but building up that which has been broken in the spirits of the afflicted. When we are at our lowest, we turn our eyes to the hills seeking help from God in the form of comfort and it is always at the ready. No fixing, no admonition, just presence to fill us in our most empty spaces. As we enter a new decade of remembrance, let us turn our legacy from hatred to love and from suffering to comforting hope.
Abiding Spirit, help me to be a mirror reflecting the comfort God gives me onto the suffering in need of compassionate care. Amen.
Rev. Sheresa A. Simpson-Rice
Associate Conference Minister for Leadership Development,
Staff Support to Western Region (Shenandoah and Catoctin Assn.)
Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ