On Sept. 11 one recent year we traveled to Pennsylvania to conduct a funeral outside Pittsburgh. The day was gray and cloudy – a fitting backdrop for a day that saw us mourning both the life of an old friend as well as the many lives lost on that fateful day.
When the funeral was concluded, we learned that we were only 11 miles from the field where Flight 93 had crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, as heroic passengers overcame the terrorists onboard and prevented the plane’s crashing in our nation’s capital. Feeling a sacred obligation to pay homage to the heroic individuals, we drove immediately to the Flight 93 National Memorial Park and arrived just an hour before closing. The setting was beautiful, encompassing rolling hills, golden pastures and lush trees. Earlier that morning the president had been present at the memorial site with a sizeable crowd, but now the crowd had thinned to a trickle.
When we got out of our car we were stunned by the strength of the chilling wind that swept across the hills. Pulling our coats more tightly around us, we quickly made our way down the walkway to stand in the shelter of a wall. The wall, it turned out, was the memorial wall, inscribed with the names of the 40 passengers and crew members who had sacrificed their lives for others.
As we stood, fittingly, in the shelter of that wall, reading the names one by one, we heard a woman’s voice behind us say, “Would you pray with our family, please?” Wearing clerical collars sometimes elicits such requests from perfect strangers. We were glad to comply, but were humbled, realizing we were standing among some of the victims’ family members and friends. We asked the group to hold hands, and six of us stood closely together and began to pray. The words of the prayer were not especially memorable, but the outcome was. When the prayer concluded, we lifted our eyes to find that our circle of six had become 10. At some point in the prayer four leather-clad bikers wearing red, white and blue bandanas had joined our circle. All 10 of us had tears streaming down our windswept faces.
We were an unusual group, unknown to one another until that moment, but drawn together to pray in gratitude for heroic lives. We prayed together with earnest hope for a holy peace that will one day overcome all that divides the world. We prayed for an end to the fear and the hatred that unleashes violence.
Many, many centuries ago, the Prophet Isaiah faced the horrors of war and the desolation of his people and envisioned something different to be granted by God’s grace. One day, he said, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the cow and the bear shall graze together, the child shall place its hand in safety upon an adder’s den, and the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. One day. One day. We, too, pray the Peaceable Kingdom may come, one day.