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Ringing the Bell of Hope

Sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George L. Carey, delivered at Trinity Church, September 11, 2002.

At this hour exactly one year ago, the part of lower Manhattan
in which we are gathered was in the grip of a waking nightmare.
The scale of the human tragedy of September the eleventh 2001
was not, could not, be clear. But the extent of the physical
devastation in New York was certainly becoming evident, despite
the choking pall of smoke and dust that obscured most things. By
this time both of the twin towers - just a few hundred yards
away - had collapsed, and in their place Ground Zero was coming
eerily into existence.

The Archbishop of Canterbury preaching
at Trinity, 9-11-02.

For those of you here today who were in the area during those
dreadful hours, this anniversary period will inevitably have
brought back some of the pain, anguish and confusion of a year
ago. For those who lost loved ones, not only in the World Trade
Center but also those killed in the Pentagon and the passengers,
pilots and crew of the four aircraft, the feelings will be all
the more intense and distressing. We now remember and honor
again the dead and departed, who came from many nations
including my own.

We also have to acknowledge that for many of the living, the
sense of vulnerability that September the eleventh brought last
year has never quite faded; the sense that bearings as well as
buildings had been ripped away. That, for many, remains a
lasting legacy, a legacy that the veneer of revived habit and
routine may submerge though not erase.

But it is not the only legacy. For we also recall with
humility and gratitude the many acts of heroism - individual and
collective - that helped to save lives and provide comfort and
support to those in need and distress. It is fitting that among
us now are some of the fire fighters, medics, and members of
emergency services who worked so selflessly. It is fitting also
that we honor the work of this Church and of its Rector, Dan
Matthews, and his many colleagues. And we give thanks especially
for the vision and compassion that turned your sister Chapel of
St Paul's, on the edge of Ground Zero, into an emergency center,
a spiritual haven, and more recently a place of pilgrimage.

On September the eleventh, as well as intense vulnerability
we also witnessed great solidarity. A solidarity that those of
us, who looked on from afar, helpless and appalled, sought as
best we could to share and to enlarge. I recall very vividly the
service of remembrance with the American community in the United
Kingdom that was held in St Paul's Cathedral just three days
after the tragedy: a service attended by Her Majesty the Queen
and the British Prime Minister and one at which I had the
privilege to speak. I can assure you, you were not alone in your
suffering then, just as you are not alone in commemoration now.

And on this anniversary we seek to sustain that sense of
solidarity, both in this special service and in the presentation
and the dedication of a new bell - a gift from the Lord Mayor
and the City of London to the City and people of New York. It
comes from the foundry in the East End of London where the
original Liberty Bell was cast more than two and a half
centuries ago. It will stand in the churchyard as an enduring
memorial and an expression of the ties between cities, nations
and peoples.

But an anniversary need not, should not, be a time only to
remember and to honor those who have gone before us, important
though such commitments are. It also offers us an opportunity to
look to the future, to take new bearings and to seek the kind of
tenacious hope for the future about which the passage from
Lamentations speaks so powerfully. We too can say with that
book, which was written in a time of national calamity and
distress, that 'the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his
mercies never come to an end'. That is the basis of Christian
hope - not a bland optimism but rather hope that flows from
faith.

It is fitting then that the Lord Mayor has christened this
bell 'The Bell of Hope'. It is a good name, but how should that
hope, that sense of aspiration and possibility, now be expressed
in the face of all that confronts the human family?

Reflecting on that question, and on what more this bell might
symbolize, I was reminded of those extraordinary, resonant lines
of the great seventeenth century poet and priest, John Donne,
who was, coincidentally, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London.
Words that draw powerfully on the image of a tolling church
bell:

'No man is an island entire of itself', he wrote, 'every man
is a piece of the continent, part of the main; any man's death
diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore
never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.'

What a remarkable challenge to our shared humanity those
words remain today, getting on for four hundred years later. And
how powerfully they connect, I believe, with two of the ideas we
have already touched upon - vulnerability and solidarity. 'Any
man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind'. We
are vulnerable because we are all connected, Donne is telling
us.

The interconnectedness of our modern world is, in a
superficial sense, something of a commonplace. It's simply part
of what we commonly understand by globalization. Well, it is
certainly much easier to make links - hyper links, air links,
road links - between people and places than it was in the past.

But Donne is talking about something more; not simply our
interconnectedness but also our interdependence: the
interdependence of the whole human family - every one of us made
in the image of God, made to reflect God's glory. Because, as
the Good Samaritan in our New Testament reading recognized so
completely, like it or not, we are involved in one another,
caught up in one another's sufferings and joys, triumphs and
tribulations. And this is as true of nations as it is of
individuals; we belong together and we can only truly flourish
when we are living in the light of that truth.

Now, it's perhaps when we feel most vulnerable that we may
find it the hardest to embrace this challenge of
interdependence. At times when we want above all to feel safe
and secure, there is often a dangerous temptation to draw back
rather than engage, to cut ourselves off, to retreat behind
walls that we may wish to believe are impregnable.

Or, equally at such times we may be tempted to seek to
over-ride others, to lash out in revenge and frustration, and
that urge may be especially strong when we believe we have not
only right but also might on our side. When we not only have the
motive but we also have the means. But surely the test of true
greatness for peoples and nations must be that they are
motivated by what should be done not by what could be done?

Now let's be very clear about it--the fight against terrorism
must continue, because what happened on September the eleventh
last year was an act of evil and of profound wickedness. Nothing
has changed or will change that fact. Nothing can excuse it.
Evil and the threat of evil are constantly with us. That is a
fundamental part of our Christian understanding, and as
Christians we are called to combat and to resist it, to do all
we can to help the light prevail over the darkness.

How we seek to do that at any time is at the heart of the
moral choices that we continually face and make as human beings.
And the United States, with its immense potential to make a
difference in the world, faces the daunting challenge of
wielding power and influence with others in ways that do justice
to the vision of our shared humanity and fate as expressed by
John Donne. In ways which do not undermine the interdependence
on which our welfare hangs. As they face this great challenge,
the leaders of this nation deserve our fervent and sincere
prayers.

But that challenge is certainly not alien to the spirit or
understanding of your founding fathers. For it's on a Christian
understanding of the equality and dignity of all human beings,
of both the potential and the limits of human power, that
America has grown up over the centuries and continues to
proclaim today 'In God we trust'. That trust, and the moral
tradition which has flowed from it, are both the beginning and
the best of America.

That is the basis on which to believe that on September the
eleventh in years to come, we shall be able both to remember the
past and to affirm the present. To believe that, by the grace of
God Almighty, the hope that has risen so courageously from the
ashes of twelve months ago will have strengthened our commitment
to make this vulnerable world a place of true and lasting
security - a place where God's goodness and bounty are shared by
everyone.

That is the bell of hope we ring today!

Posted on Trinity News, September 11, 2002.

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