This last Saturday, I had the honor of officiating my first wedding. It was an unusual event in that the bride and groom chose to declare their love for one another on the 20th Anniversary of September 11th. For them, this was just another date they’d memorized for grade school history exams, but for many of us gathered it still stung like an open wound. (I still remember every moment of the day in vivid detail.) The previous day had only deepened this painfully surreal sensation as the procession returning USMC Cpl. Page (one of the 13 U.S. servicemen and women killed during Kabul airport bombing) passed just blocks from the hotel in which we were staying.
In a private moment, the bride approached me to confess that she was beginning to feel a little guilty for choosing the date – as though she were being disrespectful by indulging such joy on a day that for many symbolized only pain. I suggested to her both then and again later in the ceremony that she was actually doing quite the opposite: she was redeeming the day.
In Ephesians 5:8-11, 15-16, the apostle Paul reminds his readers that “you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Paul recognized that in a sinful world, there could be no escape from darkness – it penetrates us and surrounds us. That is, until we turn on the light. In marrying on a day so painfully burned into our collective memories, the bride and groom were doing just that – turning on the lights to remind us that even in the darkest moments of sorrow and suffering when the clouds seem most impenetrable, Christ is there: extending His nail-scarred hands to offer us a hope and a future.
This is a good reminder for us all, not just on September 11th but every day of the year. Throughout our lives, each of us experience events which scar us deeply – lost jobs, homes, children, or spouses. Broken promises. Shattered dreams. These events transform who we are and how we see the world. Yet on these days too, Christ is there for each of us, extending His hands through the darkness to offer us hope for a future – if only we are willing to accept it.
It would be nice if the charge ended there with Christ opening His arms to us in our darkest moments. But it doesn’t. In fact, for those of us who claim Jesus as the source of our hope, this is just the beginning. In John 15:2 (the Scripture passage chosen for the wedding ceremony), Jesus charged His disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” In other words, His scarred hands should never be the only ones reaching through the darkness to offer hope to those who are suffering. Ours should be too.
This is no easy task. To live in true obedience requires perseverance in the midst of pain: a willingness not only to see the darkness, but like the many firefighters and EMS workers in 2001, to walk boldly into the midst of it. It requires us to place our lives and our livelihoods on the line as we extend our hands to our neighbors in a gesture of fellowship and support, as we shine the light of Christ amidst the darkness of the world. Only when we boldly embrace this charge will we too redeem the days.