His name is Robert Franz and his job is to remember. He is 61 years old, and his title is “interpretive park ranger,” which means that his job is to tell the story of what happened in the color-dappled field in which he now works, again and again and again. Robert Franz works at the Flight 93 National Memorial, by far the most removed of the three 9/11 crash sites.
Franz’ job is to remember, and to tell the story of United Airlines Flight 93, bound for San Francisco from Newark. How four hijackers redirect the jet southeast, most likely to crash into the nation’s capital. How many of the 40 crew members and passengers fought back. How this hurtling jetliner nearly flipped before crashing at 563 miles an hour into the soft, strip-mined earth, killing all.1
It’s been fifteen years since that warm, clear, day; fifteen years since the unthinkable happened, and like Robert Franz, it’s our job to remember, to remember the act of terror itself, yes, but to remember especially the lives lost, the sacrifices made; to remember the acts of courage and love made in the face of unspeakable horror.
Remembering gets harder as time goes by, or maybe it just turns into something else. A friend of mine remarked that he saw a few dozen West Point cadets on their morning run this past week and it struck him that most of them were about 3 years old on 9/11. This year we have the first freshman high school class to learn about 9/11 as a historical event that they weren’t alive for.2
Like Robert Franz, the Church is in the business of re-membering, of piecing back together that which was lost and broken. Our chief act of remembrance is at the altar, an act in response to a command of Christ, to take bread and wine, to make sacrifice to the Lord, to re-member His sacrifice, to make that day present to us in the here and now.
My bishop, his Excellency William Stokes is here today as he was just a couple years ago, but I didn’t know he was coming until after I had thought through this next part, so Bishop, I’m not trying to butter you up. That said, our bishop, in his wisdom, tells us often that one of the chief dangers we face as a people is in not remembering our story. In the Church, that means not knowing your Bible, not understanding the Mass, not knowing who we are and what it means to be a Christian. In our country, not remembering our story means not learning (or perhaps being willfully ignorant of) our history, not inquiring about the lives of our neighbors, it means assuming that our rights don’t end where another person’s rights begin.
The reason not knowing your story is so dangerous is because if you don’t know your story, you can’t possibly know how to respond to the world around you. Being a good Christian or a good American is wrapped up in how we respond, how we respond to our God and how we respond to our community.
We’re here this afternoon to celebrate the response of our city’s first, well responders. Firefighters and EMTs put themselves into situations few others have the guts to confront, running in so that others might get out. Some of you here undoubtedly were inspired to sign up or to keep going by what we saw on 9/11, by those images of firefighters, EMTs, and police officers giving everything so that others might live. All of you have stories of your own, stories that mingle and strengthen our collective memory. Share your story, keep living it, because that keeps us all going.
It’s our job to re-member, to piece back together what has been lost and broken. That’s our job because it might be the only way to make sense of the senseless, to bring good out of evil, to have life spring up in places where there was only death. That’s our job because that’s what it looks like to participate in the work of Jesus, who never stops pursuing the lost, who never stops piecing back together our broken hearts, who calls us to remember and respond.
1Dan Barry, A Ranger, a Field of Wildflowers and the Retelling of Flight 93, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/us/a-ranger-a-field-of-wildflowers-and-the-retelling-of-flight-93.html
2From the Facebook page of Lawrence V. Lewitinn