Oh, that with an iron pen and lead my words were graven in the rock forever.

The bitter tragedy of human life is that it is all too fragile, our lives are written not in the rock forever, but upon the all too fragile and transitory parchment of human flesh. We discovered this morning what we knew all along, what plagues us whenever we reflect upon our allotted time, that human life is fragile, provisional, and transitory.


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Modern men and women do not live with death as close a constant companion as our ancestors in the faith did in the medieval world. The advances of medicine, science and technology have created for us a world of illusion. The illusion that is marketed to us by our contemporary age is that we are in control. That we slowly are conquering all those forces which would frustrate and dominate us. That illusion was shattered this morning when two aircraft plunged deep into the heart of the World Trade Center, another struck at the Department of Defense in Washington, and we waited all day for another shoe to drop.

Events like the one which happened today--if it can be said that anything anywhere has ever been quite like this--events like this one push us to the margins. From the margins, from the edges to which we cling, we look into the abyss, and with Job, long that we might have our lives graven in the rock forever.

Christian hope is that they are. At the moment we were baptized, God made a compact with each of us. It is as if that compact, that sacred promise, was written on stone, for it stands forever. God made that compact with the pilots and passengers who died in a fiery holocaust. God made that sacred promise with the firefighter struggling to breathe as he was eased onto a gurney out on the sidewalk by St. Vincent's. God made that sacred promise to the only man from whose gurney people stood back quietly, as I commended him to God through Christ our risen Lord. God made that sacred promise to the puzzled and angry young police officer who said his first words tonight to his girlfriend would be, "I love you." God has made a compact with each of us in our baptism, and for thousands, this morning, God made good on the promise.

It is that mystery which stands at the heart of the Christian faith, and that mystery to which we must cling as we stand at the edge, at the abyss, looking into the dark.

There will be other words written in the coming days. Our task as a city and as a nation is to ensure that those words are tempered by patient reflection, by careful investigation, by temperate rhetoric. This is the time to ensure that the words we engrave on stone are not words of brutal retaliation, threats of vengeance, or words which may bitterly divide a nation already stunned by grief and loss.

Pray, my sisters and brothers that in this dark time, our words may be beams of light not clouds of darkness and that our quest for justice not become a thirst for vengeance.

The living God, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, the God upon whose book of life our names are indeed graved in stone, that God is the source and object of our faith, and it is that faith which we now confess.

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