I was 9 years old on September 11, 2001. I was a 4th grader walking to my classroom, only to arrive and see the tragedy of that day unfolding on a boxy television screen. As a child, I didn’t quite understand what was happening. I had never been to New York. I had never heard of the World Trade Center. Frankly, I wasn’t even exactly sure about what I was seeing. But the thing that I did understand was that something awful was happening. Even then, it felt like I was experiencing the most significant event of my young life.
Like me, you might remember exactly where you were that day. You might remember conversations that you had, or emotions that you felt. What I remember most vividly though, is what happened in the weeks following that terrible day. I remember people coming together and serving their communities. I remember commercials on TV encouraging people to give to charity. I remember feeling somehow closer to my friends and classmates because we had experienced this awful thing together. Tragedy has a way of doing that to us.
Unfortunately, I also remember when that sense of “togetherness” wore off. Arguments started to crop up. People began to distrust their neighbors. Unity was displaced by division, and in a big way. After a season of togetherness, Americans seemed more divided and polarized than ever before. I remember that time vividly, and as I reflect on it this year, it reminds me of a time that we’re all well acquainted with: right now.
It’s no secret that 2020 has been a bumpy ride. In fact, if you think back to March or April it may feel more like a few years ago than a few months ago! We’ve faced our fair share of tragedy this year, and even though it has affected us in different ways, we’ve all shared in this collective event of a global pandemic. In the early months, there was a sense of unity among the public. The idea that “we’re in this together” was the rallying cry. We cheered for healthcare workers as they left their shifts for the day. We shared tips with one another about working from home, and talked about banding together to flatten the curve.
But something happened. In many areas, that sense of unity is gone. In September 2020, it feels a bit like the American people are more divided and polarized than ever. If you’re on social media, you know exactly what I mean. It seems as though we’re arguing about everything under the sun! In the midst of a difficult season, this kind of thing is especially disheartening.
On September 11th, we remember one of the worst days in American history. We remember the lives lost, celebrate the brave men and women who gave their lives to save others, and mourn one of the worst tragedies we’ve ever faced. As we reflect this year, it’s important to think about what tragedy does to us. In 2001, it drove us toward unity. In 2020, it did the same. But in both of those seasons, that unity faded. It can be easy to just accept this as something that tragedy does to us. But Jesus says that there is a different way. And as always, it’s the best way.
Jesus wasn’t shy about the fact that Christians will face hard times in their lives. In John 16, Jesus says this to his disciples:
“I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Jesus is very clear that his disciples will face tragedy and tribulation. In this particular passage, he reassures the disciples that although we will have trouble, we can still have peace in Him. Although times get tough, Jesus has overcome the world.
So we know that hard times come and go. But how do we respond? Of course, Jesus didn’t give specific instructions on how to respond to 9/11 or COVID-19. Instead, He gives us a way to live, no matter the season. Whether we’re in the middle of hard times or good times, Jesus gives us a commandment to live by. Here it is from John 13:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
No matter the season, Jesus calls us to love one another. In fact, He even says that this the mark of a disciple! In times of tragedy and hardship, it can be easy for us to gravitate toward disunity and division rather than unity and love. But Jesus makes it clear that we are called to love one another. In the midst of difficult days, are we loving our neighbor? Are we pursuing unity? Are we lifting one another up?
Even in tragedy, we can take heart. We serve a God who is above it all, and a Savior who has overcome the world. In a polarized world, may we be a people who pursue unity and love, even when it’s hard.