Open thou our lips: Leading Morning Prayer on 9/11
By Will Oxford
I had awoken very early from a restless sleep, and wanted to get into the church as soon as possible to practice Morning Prayer before leading it for the first time in front of my housemates and parishioners. A dream (or nightmare) I had included the Presiding Bishop randomly showing up for Morning Prayer, and not being prepared whatsoever. There is something indescribable about being the first person who enters a 100 year old church in the morning. Turning the lights on, unlocking the doors and opening such a beautiful place of prayer and worship to the world. Hearing my footsteps echo as I walked towards the Mary shrine, lighting a candle for all those lost thirteen years ago today (and all those lost since as a result of the 9/11 attacks) was oddly comforting, knowing that I was surrounded by that cloud of witnesses who watch over Christ Church and all places where we gather together to worship the Lord.
With around 45 minutes left before Morning Prayer started, I sat down in the inner sacristy to practice all the details of the office, The Psalter, the Canticles, Collects, and of course the lectionary readings of the day. The Old Testament reading was from Job, and while I respect that book as much as any in the Hebrew Scriptures, the reading that struck a nerve with me this morning was that from John’s Gospel. The reading focuses on Jesus arriving in Bethany shortly after the death of Lazarus. Martha comes out to meet Jesus, explaining how she wished he had arrived before the death of her brother.
Jesus responds thus:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’”
What an appropriate reading for this day, on which so many lives were lost. Jesus offers us hope of resurrection and new life in him.
As eight o’clock rolled around I sat in the Lady Chapel hoping that a decent number of people would arrive, but not too many, in case I utterly botched the whole ordeal. Things went decently well; the only advice I received was to make sure to include page numbers for the Canticles. With the Gospel reading being so emotional, I began to tear up a bit while reading it and had to make sure that I could still be heard. My mind took me back to thirteen years ago sitting in Ms. Potter’s 5th grade math class at Oak Hill Elementary School. I remember her being one of the few teachers who did not allow us to watch the coverage of the World Trade Center attacks, saying something along the lines of “This is something you should talk about with your parents.” I can still recall the conversation I had after being picked up that afternoon by my mom and sister (who usually rode the bus home), asking why all the flags in our town were at half mast, and exclaiming surely it was an accident, thinking that no one would commit such an act on purpose. I then reflected on how much my life has changed in those thirteen years, from small town North Carolina, to a Northern city, serving some of the most unserved people in our country, and about how much our nation and our world has changed in that same time span.
One of the most meaningful parts of leading the daily office at Christ Church is the fact that every day since it opened its doors, others like myself have said the same words, prayed the same prayers, and heard the same readings. And to take one step farther, the majority of Christians have prayed this way for thousands of years as well. The emphasis that Saint Hilda’s House places on worshipping together is one of the cornerstones on which our community is built. No matter how crazy our day ahead might be, the ability to start off each morning praying together gives us the knowledge and power to know that we as a community are fully focused on living the gospel “not only with our lips but with our lives”, and to truly live out our motto of “Through the gates and into the City”.