The Rev. Patrick Blaney
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I begin with a poem by Jan Berry

 The Way Of Forgiveness

 When the story is told

Of enemies and atrocities

And our own abuses of human rights

 How shall we forgive?

How shall we learn to live?

 In the aftermath of war

In the exaltation of success

And the bitterness of defeat

 How shall we forgive?

How shall we learn to live?

 When lives are spent,

Cities derelict, the land destroyed

And the cost is reckoned

 How shall we forgive?

How shall we learn to live?

 When we are confronted with terror

And evil done in the name of justice;

When we are torn by anger and grief

 How shall we forgive?

How shall we learn to live?

       This past Thursday saw the 13 anniversary of 9/11.  Like almost all of you I remember the day vividly.  I was up early and I watched it all happen live on television.  From the very first report of an accident and the billowing smoke from the North Tower, to the second plane, to the third plane and the Pentagon, to the fourth plane, and to the towers collapsing I watched in horror, in disbelief, in distress and in outrage.  As I staggered around my apartment to get ready for work I felt disassociated from my body – my mind was on the horror of the event and I found it physically difficult to get dressed.  On the drive to work I was so disconcerted listening to the radio that I missed my exit and was twenty minutes late to my school. 

         I can only speak for myself but throughout that whole week I was almost overwhelmed.  And yet I was obsessed with the coverage; I felt I had to watch it.  I would immediately leave after work and go home and sit in front of the television.  I suppose like many of us I was trying to make sense of it, I was trying to comprehend it and throughout it all I was grieving for the victims, and for their loved ones and grieving for our world that I knew would change and, I sensed, probably not for the better.  All week long I was transfixed to the images, the commentary, the rhetoric, the tears, the destruction, the disbelief, and the still rising smoke from the rubble of the two towers where just four months before being in New York for the first time I stood at the base of them and looked in wonderment at their size and presence.  It was a week of so many emotions, of so many upsetting and disturbing images, a week of so many stories of heroism and of incredible coincidences and close calls and of course a week of stories of agonizing loss and of utter tragedy.

         In that week of so many different feelings and reactions one image for me stood out among all the rest.  In that week where millions of words were spoken and an untold multitude of pictures and film were taken one image was literally seared into my mind.  It was an image that I knew at the time I would never, never forget and one that has in a way changed my life.  It was an incredibly brief image that contained more theology than many textbooks I have read and more humanity than words alone can express.

Near the end of that first week an official day of mourning was called for and the memorial service was held at the Washington National Cathedral.  As you would expect the service was powerful and moving and the National Cathedral did a magnificent job of welcoming the love and peace of God into the hearts and minds of what must have been a worldwide audience.  Near the end of the service the United States Marine Corps Choral marched in with a somber and solemn gate.  Once in place they started to sing The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.  Even in ordinary circumstances this hymn is stirring and dramatic, but given the context of this moment in this service it was, particularly for the American people, heartrending and cathartic.  As the lyrics of “Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord” started to be sung, I doubt there was a dry eye in the church or in the nation.

The image I am talking about happened near the end of the hymn as the camera was panning over the congregation gathered at the Cathedral.  The camera was positioned from up above the people and as it moved over them I caught a glimpse of an older couple who I could just tell were husband and wife.  From the looks on their faces of extreme pain and intense grief you also could be absolutely certain that they had in fact lost a loved one in the attacks.  I would even go so far as to say that given their age and the severity of the looks on their faces that they had lost a child; I am not exactly sure why, but you could just tell they had lost a son or a daughter.  As the camera paned over them and the hymn was reaching it’s climatic chorus the husband turned to his wife and said these words.  You could not of course hear him, but I could very distinctly read his lips – her turned to his wife and with a look of complete devastation and suffering and anguish he said to her, “I can’t stand it”.  He said “I can’t stand it” and then he collapsed into the arms of his wife and heaved with sobbing.     

In that image, in that moment I saw complete grief, the kind of grief that brings someone to the edges of life itself.  The evil that had perpetrated this abhorrent act of cruel violence on innocent ordinary people had found its mark.  The hatred that had motivated this horrifying act of terror was gripping another victim and was holding on to him fast.  Even in this house of God the heinous tentacles of hate were trying to destroy another life because hate knows that love is vulnerable when those we love with all our being become victims to a horrific crime.  As Jan Berry said in her poem, “When we are confronted with terror and evil done in the name of justice; when we are torn by anger and grief, how shall we forgive?  How shall we learn to live?”

The popular and renowned author Dr M. Scott Peck had an interesting transformation as he began to write his books about human behavior.  When the American psychologist wrote his first and widely successful book The Road Less Traveled he described himself more or less as an atheist.  However, as he researched even further into human actions and human psychology he progressively became more and more convinced that the teachings of Jesus were a surprisingly accurate route to spiritual growth and human psychological development.  M. Scott Peck came to see Jesus as fully human and as fully God and became a committed Christian in the process.  What he found and what he was so compelled by in the teachings of Jesus was the multi layered meanings that seem to work on so many levels, and that the meanings found within spoke to fundamental truths about how humans grow into maturity and how we may live a life that consistently leads us toward health, inner peace and the bright light of love.

In the Gospel today we hear one of the principal teachings of Jesus.  He is asked how many times should we forgive another who acts against us.  Peter asks the question of Jesus and at the same time puts forward a possible answer – he says, “Seven times”?  Jesus answers, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven”.  I believe we have gone over some Bible speak before and I mentioned that the number forty used many times in the Bible - forty days and forty nights for example – does not exactly refer to the number forty but in essence means a very long time.  If that is the case Jesus is being very deliberate here and says not seven times, but an infinite number of times.  Jesus is saying there is no number, there is no limit to the times we are called to try and forgive.  There is also the notion that the number seventy refers to spiritual perfection, that is to say that as we forgive or learn to forgive over and over again we are selves are moving towards a more spiritual and peaceful sate of being.

In point of fact, what Scott Peck and others have found is that Jesus is saying here that forgiveness is very much a process.  Forgiveness is very much a multi-layered undertaking and as we travel that road we become more aware of our own feelings, our own woundedness and our own sense of who we really are.  As we travel that road of forgiveness we discover more about ourselves and more about the nature of human beings.  When Jesus says forgive not just seven times but seventy times seven, he is not saying we need to mindlessly repeat a platitude until we believe it, Jesus is inviting us on an inward journey that will help us to grow as individuals and bring us closer to the pure light, the pure peace and the pure love God intended for us all from the very start of time.

As I mentioned, forgiveness is a process that takes time and has many layers to it.  But it is important to realize that forgiveness does not mean forgetting and it certainly does not mean abandoning the justice that is required of an egregious act of cruelty.  We must never forget acts of brutality and must never stop seeking justice for those who were killed or injured and for those who mourn the loss of loved ones.  To this end I would also say that forgiveness does not exclude anger and contempt.  These feelings, these emotions are all a part of being a human being.  We should never feel badly about ourselves for having anger and disgust at those who do appalling things to us or to others.  Indeed I would say the profundity of our humanity is shown in the anger we have toward acts of atrocity.

But in this process it is very important that we eventually come out the other side, that we eventually let go of the anger because if we do not, we remain locked in as victims of the crime that was perpetrated against us.  That is why seventy times seven must remain in our minds because we may have to work at it over and over again in order that we come out of it as better people and do not get consumed by the very hate that caused the crime in the fist place.  And in this process it is very helpful if the perpetrator of the offence offers some acknowledgment of the pain and suffering they have caused, but as is the case so often, the lasting victims of 9/11 will never see or hear such repentance or remorse; they and we have been left to walk that journey by ourselves.

Let us remember those who died and we pray for those who today still mourn the loss of their loved ones.  Let us remember the heroism of the first responders and the ordinary civilians who tried to save others while putting their own lives in mortal danger.  Let us remember the acts of care and compassion given to thousands of stranded air travelers in Gander Newfoundland and in Halifax and indeed all over Canada.  Let us remember and let us never forget.  But let us also remember to hear God’s call to us to love each other.  We may not get that love back in return.  We may have to fight for justice.  We may have to struggle again and again to forgive and may never receive an apology.  But let us always remember to hear God’s call to us to love each other anyway.  It is not an easy way, but it is our only hope.  The hatred that caused 9/11 and brought that man in the Washington National Cathedral to utter despair is a very real presence in our world still to this day.  But recall that even in this one man’s darkest moment he collapsed into the arms of his wife - love was there.  With the help of God love will prevail, and each one of us are called to be a part of that monumental process.

I do have hope for our world; I do have a great and real hope that love will overcome all evil.  Today we baptized two people.  Today two people with the help of their sponsors committed themselves to the way of love.  I do find real hope in that.  I find the way of love and the way of God in that.  St Paul got it exactly right when he said,  “Love, faith and hope abide, but the greatest of these is love”.  Love not hate will guide us through, love not hate will walk triumphant, and love alone will lead us all home.  Amen.