Memorial Prayers – Anniversary of 11th September 2001


O Lord God,
whose glory has shone upon us
in the face of Jesus Christ,
and whose nature is made known to us
in the mystery of his Cross;
number us, we pray,
among his faithful followers
for whom nothing matters
but the doing of Your will
in Your way
for Your world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Your Servant and Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now, and to the ages of ages.

First Reading

A Reading from the poem “What Kind of Story Is This?” by Godfrey Rust ©

Where was God
on September the 11th?
He was begging
in old clothes in the subway
beneath the World Trade Center.
He was homeless in Gaza,
imprisoned in Afghanistan,
running the gauntlet to her school in the Ardoyne,
starving in Somalia,
dying of AIDS in an Angolan slum,
suffering everywhere in this fast-shrinking world;
and boarding a plane unwittingly in Boston,
heading for an appointment on the 100th floor.

When the time came he stretched out his arms once more to take
the dreadful impact that would pierce his side.
His last message on his fading cell phone
once more to ask forgiveness for them all, before
his body fell under the weight of so much evil.


Reader:             May Your word live in us.
Assembly:         And bear much fruit to Your glory.

Second Reading

A Reading from Writing in the Dust: Reflections on September 11 by Rowan Williams,  ©

Last words.  We have had the chance to read the messages sent by passengers on the planes to their spouses and families in the desperate last minutes; and we have seen the spiritual advice apparently given to the terrorists by one of their number, the thoughts that should have been in their minds as they approached the death they had chosen (for themselves and for others).  Something of the chill of 11 September 2001 lies in the contrast.  The religious words are, in the cold light of day, the words that murderers are saying to themselves to make a martyr’s drama out of a crime.  The non-religious words are testimony to what religious language is supposed to be about – the triumph of pointless, gratuitous love, the affirming of faithfulness even when there is nothing to be done or salvaged.

We’d better acknowledge the sheer danger of religiousness.  Yes, it can be a tool to reinforce diseased perceptions of reality.  Muslim or not, it can be a way of teaching ourselves not to see the particular human agony in front of us; or worse, of teaching ourselves not to see ourselves, our violence, our actual guilt as opposed to our abstract ‘religious’ sinfulness.  Our religious talking, seeing, knowing, needs a kind of cleansing.

Someone who is about to die in terrible anguish makes room in their mind for someone else; for the grief and terror of someone they love.  They do what they can to take some atom of that pain away from the other by the inarticulate message on the mobile.  That moment of ‘making room’ is what I as a religious person have to notice.  It isn’t ‘pious’, it isn’t language about God; it’s simply language that brings into the world something other than self-defensiveness.  It’s a breathing space in the asthmatic climate of self-concern and competition; a breathing space that religious language doesn’t often manage to create by or for itself.

God always has to be rediscovered.  Which means God always has to be heard or seen where there aren’t yet words for him.  Saying something for the sake of another in the presence of death must be one place of rediscovery.  Mustn’t it?

Careful.  You can do this too quickly.  It can sound as though you’re gratefully borrowing someone else’s terrible experience to make another pious point.  And after all, not everyone dies with words of love.  There will have been cursing and hysteria and frantic, deluded efforts to be safe at all costs when people knew what was going on in those planes.  And would anyone want their private words of love butchered to make a sermon?

It proves nothing.  But all I can say is that for someone who does believe, or tries to, the ‘breathing space’ is something that allows the words of religious faith for a moment not to be as formal or flat or self-serving as they usually are.

Simone Weil said that the danger of imagination was that it filled up the void when what we need is to learn how to live in the presence of the void.  It becomes very important to know how to use the language of belief; which is why the terrible simplicity of those last messages matters so intensely.  And why also we have to tread so carefully in not making some sort of religious capital out of them.  Ultimately, the importance of these ‘secular’ words has to stand as a challenge to anything comfortingly religious that we might be tempted to say.  This is what human beings can find to say in the face of death – religion or no religion.  This is what truly makes breathing space for others.

Words like ‘transcendent’ hang around uneasily in the background of my mind.  Careful again.  But that moment of pointless loving communication is the best glimpse many of us will have of what the rather solemn and pompous word means.  I have to begin with this.  I know I shall be feeling my way towards making some verbal shape out of it all in terms of my Christian faith, but there is nowhere else to start except with that frightening contrast: the murderously spiritual and the compassionately secular.


Reader:            May Your word live in us.
Assembly:        And bear much fruit to Your glory.

The Gospel

A Reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew

Jesus says,

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

[other Gospel passages may be inserted]

Prayers of the People

President       Let us pray now for all people according to their need,
and for the whole state of Christ’s church.

Intercessor     God of unending mercy,
we pray with those who are crying.
For women and men who are battered in body or spirit,
for children who sleep the fitful sleep of grief,
for all who are imprisoned by walls or worries,
for all who wonder if they can ever live again,
for the least, the lost and the last, and for the dead.

Christ, have mercy on those who cry;
Christ, have mercy on us when we turn away from the cries of others.

Give us the strength of compassion,
that we may never shield our eyes and hearts from pain,
but seek to heal and to bless.

Bless us with courage and arm us with hope,
that we may lessen the suffering of our world.

Hear this our common prayer
and those of our hearts which we offer now.


Music for reflection.

Candle lighting.

Intercessor     God of tender care,
we pray with those who are praying.

We join the spoken and silent prayers
that come to You from throughout the earth –
from sanctuaries and street corners,
from battle lines and prison cells,
from hospital rooms and festive tables,
from broken hearts and fearful minds.

With bowed heads or heads held high,
standing boldly or kneeling quietly,
we pray to You with thanks, with sorrow, with urgency.

We ask Your guidance;
we rest in Your comfort.

Speak, O God, to Your praying people everywhere!

Hear this our common prayer,
and those of our hearts which we offer now.


Music for reflection.

Candle lighting.

Intercessor      God of overflowing joy,
God of a thousand faces,
God of many names,
Lover of all peoples,
we pray with all who seek You sincerely.

We rejoice with sunset watchers, beach walkers, embracing lovers,
playing children, new parents, old friends,
all those in whom Your life-giving Spirit wells up and overflows.

Help us feel it surging within us;
enable us to shower it upon the world!

For Your steadfast love to those who have gone before,
Your continual goodness to us,
and Your promised care for those who are yet to come,
we give You thanks.
You have loved us with an everlasting love;
teach us to care.

Hear this our common prayer,
and those of our hearts which we offer now.


Music for reflection.

Candle lighting.

President       The way is long, let us go together.
The way is hard, let us help each other.
The way is joyful, let us share it.
The way is Christ’s, for Christ is the Way, let us follow.
The way is open before us, let us go:
with the love of God,
the grace of Christ,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Assembly       Amen.

Greeting of Peace to Close

President         Christ has reconciled us to God
in one body by the Cross,
we meet in his name and share his peace.

The peace of the Lord be always with you.

Assembly         And also with you.


President          Let us go into the world to serve Christ and to share his peace.

Assembly         In the name of the Triune God, Amen.

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