Dear St. Stephen’s family,
Twenty years ago today, the world watched in horror as this nation was the recipient of one of the most horrific acts in human history. It was an event that for many is still difficult to describe or comprehend. Even now – and especially on this significant anniversary – this date on the calendar brings renewed grief and pain for countless individuals and families. The loss of thousands of men and women, victims both known and unknown but most certainly known to God, continues to bring great pain to the hearts and souls of many. Each one of you undoubtedly carries with you your own memories of that day and bears the scars of a deep and shared wound. The passage of time may dull the pain, but for so many the pain still lingers.
At times such as these, the first thing we can and should do is turn to prayer. Today, as we wrestle with the intense feelings that arise, I offer you this brief service of readings and prayers. May they be a source of comfort and strength as we once again confront the images and memories of that day 20 years ago.
Grace and blessings,
O Almighty God, who brings good out of evil and turns even the wrath of your children towards your promised peace: Hear our prayers this day as we remember those of many nations and differing faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Hasten the time when the menace of war shall be removed. Cleanse both us and those perceived to be our enemies of all hatred and distrust. Pour out the spirit of peace on all the rulers of our world that we may be brought through strife to the lasting peace of the kingdom of your Son; Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
First Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Refrain: The Lord has shown me the wonders of his love.
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame; *
deliver me in your righteousness.
Incline your ear to me; *
make haste to deliver me.
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
for you are my tower of strength.
Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me,
O Lord, O God of truth.
How great is your goodness, O Lord!
which you have laid up for those who fear you; *
which you have done in the sight of all
for those who put their trust in you.
You hide them in the covert of your presence from those who slander them; *
you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the Lord! *
for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.
Refrain: The Lord has shown me the wonders of his love.
Second Reading: Romans 8:31-39
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-10
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
With all our heart and all our mind, we pray to you, O Lord.
Make us instruments of your peace.
For the peace of the world, that a spirit of respect and forbearance may grow among nations and peoples, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
For our enemies and those who wish us harm, especially those who are led to acts of terror; that in the aftermath of the destruction in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington on September 11, 2001 we may grow ever more deeply in your spirit of justice and peace, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is injury, let us sow pardon.
For all who believe in you, Lord Christ, and all whose faith is known to you alone, that they may be delivered from the darkness of fanaticism that arises from poverty and oppression, and from the pride that arises from wealth and comfort, and brought into your light, so that divisions that foster violence may cease, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is discord, let us sow union.
For those who have lost their faith in you Lord God, for those who continue to mourn those who died in the World Trade Center, the airplanes and the Pentagon, may your Church give comfort and hope in this time of remembrance, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is doubt, let us sow faith.
For all those whose spirit has been broken and whose lives have been irrevocably disrupted by the violence of that day and its aftermath, we offer our prayers along with the persecuted, the lonely, and the sick who have bid our prayers today, that they may be relieved and protected, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is despair, let us sow hope.
For the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church; that we may listen to the Gospel of reconciliation and proclaim it in word and action for the building of your reign here on earth, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is darkness, let us sow light.
For all who died in the terror of September 2001 and for those others whom we remember today, for those who believed in your resurrection and those who knew not your promise of eternal life, in trust that they have been found by you and are at rest in your holy habitation, we pray to you, O Lord:
Where there is sadness, let us sow joy.
We pray for the concerns of our parish.
And we pray for the forgiveness of our sins.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved as to love.
Take heart, in Christ we have been reconciled to God.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are reborn to eternal life. Amen.