Summary: How the resurrection of Jesus helps us regain our hope in light of the terrorist attacks of September 11.
On September 11 all of our lives changed drastically. And although we’re back into our daily routines six months later, we’re still trying to make sense of what happened. Like most of you, I still remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard about the first plane crashing into the world trade center. I was taking my 12 year old son to school, and as we listened to the news, both of us immediately started praying.
On September 11 we experienced the largest loss of American life on U.S. soil since the Revolutionary War in 1776. As of February 7, 2002, the death toll at the World Trade Center totaled 3,290 people, and the death toll at the Pentagon totaled 125 people. Plus there were five deaths caused by Anthrax tainted mail.
For the first time in American history, United Nations Airborne Early Warning System airplanes are patrolling the United States. Our lives have changed more than longer waits at airports. We’re getting used to Homeland Security Directory Tom Ridge making announcements about credible terrorist threats like the one given on Wednesday. American lives have been lost in the fighting in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and hunt down Al Qaeda terrorists.
And here we come to Easter Sunday, a little over six months later. More blood is shed in the middle east each day, as terrorism becomes a part of our daily lives. Do we pretend that 9/11 never happened in our celebration of Christ’s resurrection? Or do we look at the events of 9/11 through the lens of Easter, trying to see it in new light?
Today I want to talk about recovering our hope after 9/11. The tragedy of 9/11 and the crucifixion of Jesus share some similar characteristics. In both cases, before the tragedy came people thought they were invulnerable. The first followers of Jesus believed that since Jesus was the Messiah, no harm could come to him. They believed that God would never allow his only Son to be killed in such a vicious, cruel manner as Roman crucifixion. And of course, before 9/11 we thought we were invincible as well, immune to the hateful attacks of others. In both cases, people were caught off guard.
But some ways the crucifixion of Jesus was even more tragic. Not to minimize the horrible tragedy of 9/11, but the death of Jesus had a uniqueness to it that no other tragedy had ever had before or since. You see, according to the New Testament, it wasn’t just the Roman soldiers who killed Jesus. And it wasn’t just the religious leaders who conspired to murder Jesus. According to the Bible, human sin led to Christ’s execution. It’s like that anti-drug commercial that says every time a person buys drugs that they’re supporting terrorism. Every time a human being disobeys God, that person participates in the execution of Jesus. The Romans were simply the henchmen. If we believe the Bible’s claim, we all participated in the crucifixion of Jesus. So while 9/11 was the act of a handful of people taking the lives of thousands, the death of Jesus was the act of the entire human race taking the life of one innocent man. So even though only one life was lost on Good Friday, the complicity for that act of terrorism passes to every person who’s ever sinned. And that pretty much includes all of us to some extent.
So by looking at how the resurrection helped the early Christians gain hope in the aftermath of that tragedy, we can also gain perspective for recovering our hope in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. Today in our time together, I want to look at some common responses to tragedy and how Easter can answer tragedies like 9/11.
1. Responses To Tragedy (Luke 24:1-12)
Let’s begin by reading Luke’s account of that first Easter morning in Luke 24:1-12. Here we find several women arriving at the graveside of Jesus early Sunday morning. They came to finish what they’d started when they first laid Jesus’ body to rest in this tomb. You see, because the Jewish Passover was dawning when Jesus died on Good Friday, they weren’t able to complete the body preparation process required by Jewish tradition. So for 24 hours they waited, and now that they could return, here they were.
I’d imagine that this early morning was crisp and misty, the way it usually is in Jerusalem this time of year. Most people were still in bed after celebrating the Passover feast with family and friends the night before. There’s nothing to indicate that these women expected anything more than to finish their preparations of the body of Jesus. Resurrection was the last things on their minds.
They’re surprised to see that the stone that had covered the tomb has been rolled away. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the stones that were used to close off tombs were usually large and heavy, placed in a channel cut out in the front of the tomb. It would take a platoon of soldiers to muscle the stone away, yet there it is rolled away sometime during the night.