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Commentary: Looking for Easter after Sept. 11

9/16/2002 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available.

A UMNS Commentary By the Rev. William Shillady*

Sept. 11, 2002, began with beautiful weather and a blue sky here in New York City. However, it had a gray and dark feel to the day - much the same effect that Good Friday has on my spiritual life during the Lenten-Easter season. And it was indeed a Holy Week, as we remembered, relived and reflected upon Sept. 11, 2001.

A little child who lost her father in the World Trade Center attack was interviewed. She reported that her mother asked what she was going to give up for Lent earlier this year. She replied, "I gave up my father, isn't that enough?" We have been living Lent for over a year now, and I must admit that Easter still seems far off.

I think we New Yorkers began our remembrances with the fear and the terror of the year taking a backseat, and emotions of sadness and grief, long suppressed, rising to the surface. The city was eerily quiet and subdued. Even taxicabs did not seem to be blowing their horns as frequently.

Not only those who lost loved ones, but also those who were witness survivors of last year's attacks felt a deep emotion on this anniversary. And truly, most all of us were witnesses, thanks to news coverage. The videotapes of 9-11 play over and over in our mind's eye.

We need the hope of resurrection to break through the darkness of our spirits. A resurrection of promise that we can be a better people, that we can find new ways to rise to service and community with our brothers and sisters of all faiths, and that we can truly break through the rock that holds back true shalom - peace, wholeness, balance, health and harmony.

Last year, beginning on Sept. 11, our emotions were tied up in the shock and visceral feeling of fear and anger. Emotions of grief and sadness were suppressed. This year, with fear and anger no longer dominant, I saw a city with a deep emotional wound. The sadness and hurt, the grief and sorrow were evident.

Our church chose to remember the day with a service on the sidewalk in front of our building. We are located on a major crosstown thoroughfare and directly off a major subway stop.

Our ministry following Sept. 11, 2001, had a significant presence on the street with counselors, United Methodist Committee on Relief volunteers, and church members distributing the many resources sent to us last year, from Upper Room guides, to books on faith and fear, to teddy bears from around the country.

I felt it was important to provide that same atmosphere this year. We had counselors from the Blanton-Peale Institute - a counseling and referral agency in New York - present throughout the week, and more free literature from the Upper Room and the American Bible Society. On Monday through Wednesday, we gave out nearly 4,000 candles, donated by Cokesbury. Each included an attached note: "It takes one candle to light our way … and the darkness will not overcome it." People were encouraged to light the candle on Sept. 11.

I hold to the promise that Christ is the light for our world. Our symbol of the candles helped to remind those of the Christian faith of his light. However, we live in a city of diverse faiths. And those of other faiths were reminded of the words of Adlai Stevenson at Eleanor Roosevelt's funeral: "It is easier to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, we had a remembrance service that included the reading of the names of all the victims who died in New York, Washington and on the planes. I found it profoundly moving and emotional to hear these 3,000 names read by clergy and laity. Standing on the sidewalk, I found people in tears, with deep sighs of grief and pain. Some people would stop for a few minutes, while others remained for the full two and a half hours. I found myself giving out hugs and praying with and for the passersby.

No perfect words can be said to those who are hurting, but there is something assuring in being present to share the love of Christ, and as St. Francis said, "to share the good news and - if you need to - use words."

I felt a tremendous sense of God's presence here in New York City this Sept. 11, a feeling of community similar to the outpouring and response last year. People were chatting with strangers on the subway. About 2,000 people of all faiths joined in an interfaith service at our neighboring Park Avenue Synagogue.

In the energy of community, out of the ashes of last year, we are a different city and different community. My hope is that we will stand shoulder to shoulder in a more profound sense of acceptance, not just tolerance; in a more profound sense of diversity in community, rather than communities separated by our diversity.

Maybe we are still journeying through Holy Saturday, but there is a sense of relief and release. The taxis are blaring their horns again. People don't talk on the subway. Normalcy returns.

Well, not quite. But Easter and new life can't be too far off.

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*Shillady is pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church in New York City.

Commentaries provided by United Methodist News Service do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of UMNS or the United Methodist Church.

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