I wish I had been in New York City last night to see the “Tribute in Light” in person. Each September 11, two beams, comprised of eighty-eight seven-thousand-watt xenon lightbulbs, are released into the sky to echo the shape and orientation of the Twin Towers. Just seeing the video of the tribute was deeply moving for me.
All of us old enough to remember 9/11 will never forget it: the shock when the first airplane flew into the North Tower, the horror when the second plane struck the South Tower, the buildings spewing smoke into the sky, the people fleeing their burning floors by jumping to their deaths, the attack on the Pentagon, the collapse of the South Tower, the crash in Pennsylvania, the collapse of the North Tower. Less than three hours after the first plane to be hijacked left the Boston airport, the iconic Twin Towers lay in ruins in Lower Manhattan.
A few years earlier, I stood at the base of the World Trade Center. From the ground, I could not see the top of the two towers. That such colossal buildings could be destroyed so quickly is still staggering to me. Each year’s anniversary is another reminder of our finitude, frailty, and mortality.
Another headline in today’s news is a similar reminder: Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin arrived in Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh yesterday after a six-hour procession from her beloved Balmoral Castle. King Charles III and his Queen Consort Camilla are traveling today to join another procession taking the queen’s coffin to St. Giles Cathedral, where it will remain for twenty-four hours so the Scottish public can pay their respects. It will be flown to London on Tuesday.
Charles became king in the moment of his mother’s death, though his coronation could still be months away. In these two facts we find a life principle of transforming hope today.
“Did you think I was immortal?”
America is separated from the rest of the world by oceans on the east and west, deserts to the south, and forests and lakes to the north. Except for an abortive attempt by Japanese soldiers to take the Aleutian islands off Alaska in 1942, foreign enemies have not attacked Americans on our soil since the War of 1812.
9/11 changed that calculus forever. As every traveler enduring TSA airport screening knows, our enemies can use American airplanes to kill Americans. Not to mention cyber, chemical, biological, and radiological threats. We can also die of diseases we did not know existed. And, as the pandemic continues to prove, a virus two thousand times smaller than a dust mite can kill more than a million Americans.
If the queen of England, with all her vast resources, is not immune to the frailty of life, no one is. If towers reaching 110 stories tall and built to withstand hurricane-force winds could be felled by airplane hijackers, no occupant in any building is truly safe.
The queen’s namesake, Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603), reportedly said from her deathbed, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” France’s Louis XIV (1638–1715) was the only monarch to rule longer than Queen Elizabeth II. However, his last words were said to his grieving attendants: “Why do you weep? Did you think I was immortal?”
“We die to be raised up”
It is understandable to fear any journey into an experience we cannot see beforehand: stepping into a pitch-black room, attending a new school, working for a new manager. The greater the consequences of our decision, the more fearful we naturally become. Staying at a new hotel provokes far less apprehension than starting a new job.
Death feels so permanent to us. Except for Lazarus and Jesus, no one has come back to our world from the other side. It is therefore the greatest and most fearful unknown.
But St. Athanasius was right: “We no longer die to be condemned, we die to be raised up and await the resurrection of all, which God will bring about at a time of his choosing.”
Here’s why: “One has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).
A transforming personal anniversary
If you have made Jesus your Lord, your “old man” died in the moment that you trusted in Christ (Romans 6:5) and you were “born again” (John 3:3) as a child of God (John 1:12). Now you already “have eternal life” (John 3:16). Note the present tense.
The forty-ninth anniversary of my salvation experience was last Friday. For forty-nine years, I have possessed eternal life. Now, as the child of God, when my body dies (if the Lord tarries), I will in that moment be united with Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). When I close my eyes here, I will open them there. When I take my last breath here, I will take my first breath there. I will step from death into life and from time into eternity.
So will you if Jesus is your Lord.
My mother “died” of cancer in 2008. Some might say, “She lost her battle with cancer.” Actually, the cancer died and she is more alive today than she was then.
We often say that someone “passed away.” Actually, the world passes away. And we are with our Father and with “a great multitude that no one could number” forever (Revelation 7:9).
You are uncrowned royalty
All of this is illustrated by King Charles III’s ascension to the throne last Thursday. In the moment of his mother’s death, he became king. Nothing changed externally—he had the same appearance, with the same height and weight and the same personal characteristics that were his the day before. But in that moment, his status changed. Though he is yet uncrowned, he will be known forever as the king he was born to be.
In precisely the same way, the moment you trusted Christ as Lord you were born again into his royal family (1 Peter 2:9). You can now serve him faithfully and fearlessly, knowing that the worst that can happen to you leads to the best that can happen to you. You can use your momentary days for eternal significance and live for God’s glory rather than your own, secure in the knowledge that you will share his glory when you worship at his throne.
You are uncrowned royalty today, but if you are faithful to your King, you will receive one day “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
Isaac Watts (1674–1748) testified:
I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures.
What “shall employ” your “nobler powers” today?