Christianity 201

September 10, 2021

An Anniversary: A Time to Remember

Thinking about the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack in the United States got me wondering what we posted ten years ago on the 10th anniversary. Here’s what we talked about that day.

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?” You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this. Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it. The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist. Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal?

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22. In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night. Even if it makes the disciples look bad. It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good. If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.’”

I’m serious. It’s that much out of place with what’s just happened. Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled. And they’re arguing about who is Disciple of the Month. How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly? In a matter of seconds?

Easily.

People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted. September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story. We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily. We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Tomorrow, in another flashback to an earlier post here at C201, we’ll look at the idea of creating memorials to remember times of both hardship and blessing in our lives.


Read more about the cross at Ground Zero in this special-edition article we ran in August, 2011.

August 24, 2011

The Cross Identifies With 9/11

Something rather different today, but worthy of much consideration. This item by Ryan Halliday appeared as a web-only piece at Christianity Today under the title 9/11 Cross Should Offend

In a recent debate surrounding a cross displayed at the World Trade Center 9/11 memorial site, both sides agree on at least one point: the complaints by atheist litigants that the presence of the cross has caused them to suffer “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish” are less than credible. Even the commentators who have argued against the inclusion of the cross in the 9/11 memorial have nevertheless ridiculed these purported symptoms, assuming they are nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt at establishing legal standing.

But Christians should recognize that these seem to be the sort of symptoms many sane and thoughtful persons experience upon encountering an unwanted vision of the cross. Far from being silly, these four atheists seem to take the cross more seriously than many believers do.

Because the cross tells the world’s strangest story in an image, it has always provoked a variety of responses, most of which have been negative. In the first century, the idea that the crucified Jesus was God-in-the-flesh was considered, depending on one’s background, either a scandal or a joke. (As the Jewish-turned Christian theologian St. Paul put it, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”) A weak, suffering deity held little appeal and would have been easily dismissed, were it not for the early Christians’ insistence that the death of Christ was everyone’s problem.

Jesus’ first followers did not only assert that God came to earth and died, but also that culpability for his death was universal. “This Jesus, whom you crucified,” were the words chosen by St. Peter to conclude the first Christian sermon, directed to an ethnically diverse crowd, most of whom were not even present in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ death.

For the two millennia since Jesus’ resurrection, Christian orthodoxy has been consistent in repeating this same message: the whole world stands equally guilty of committing history’s greatest atrocity, an atrocity in light of which the events of 9/11 pale in comparison. God came to earth, and we killed him.

The Book of Acts records that upon hearing this indictment for the first time, many of Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart.” Understandably so—the charge is enough to turn the stomach, darken the mind, and plunge the heart into despair. Or, in other words, Peter’s words were enough to cause “dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish.” The atheist litigants have called the 9/11 cross “an ugly piece of wreckage,” arguing that it speaks of “horror and death.” On the basis of the New Testament, these statements are difficult to contradict.

But if the image of the cross represents humanity’s greatest collective failure, why would a nation cling to it as a sign of hope in the days after 9/11? The exchange that follows Peter’s sermon sheds some further light.

When asked to suggest a course of action, Peter advised his hearers, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins”—advice which makes little sense unless one assumes certain premises. These premises, implicit in the Christian religion from day one, were intricately explored over the next several decades in the writings of St. Paul, who advanced what would become the best-known but least-understood tenet of Christian theology: that somehow the death of the perfectly sinless Christ was itself the event which atoned for all the wrongdoing of the sinful human race.

If true, this turns the cross into a profound paradox. The same event that condemns humanity also justifies it, standing at once as damning evidence of guilt and a doorway to forgiveness and innocence. What’s more, the very episode that shows humanity at its worst shows God at his best, as he transforms an act of wickedness into a display of mercy and love. It is difficult to imagine themes more relevant to the attacks of September 11.

Suppose God himself has suffered and died at the hands of evil men. Suppose God himself has shown the capacity for taking what was intended for harm and using it for good. Might this affect the way we ourselves face evil and suffering? Might this be a source of strength to someone who is waist-deep in ash and rubble, trying to loosen bodies from steel and concrete?

For the person who accepts this narrative, the cross is the only thing that makes sense in the face of a senseless tragedy. But for the person who rejects it, the cross serves as a reminder of an offensive and seemingly absurd accusation, adding insult to injury. The trouble with the cross is that it refuses to be the universal symbol of beauty that some would make it out to be—it speaks life to those who believe, but death to those who do not.

No wonder people disagree about where it should be displayed.

Ryan Holladay is pastor of Lower Manhattan Community Church, which meets two blocks from the World Trade Center site.