"Come On Up for The Rising"



I left my house this morning. Bells ringing filled the air.

This lyric hits me deep, son. Bruce’s record The Rising came out in 2002, less than a year after 9/11. The record was one of those rare records that offered catharsis to the culture from which it sprung. The whole record was a venture in pastoral care, really, what dad does for a living. In the record, Bruce plays minister to a people, the American people, giving us music that lays out all the emotions Americans were experiencing in the wake of 9/11. Bruce sat with us, mirrored out words and thoughts, felt the pain and horror, anger and fear with us. Yet at the same time he rose above it and reached passed the emptiness into the fullness of love, compassion, and its healing.

We were new to New York City in September 2001, your mom and dad were. I actually began seminary on September 11th. Mom happened to be in Florida with family and flew to New York just a week later, 9/18.

The sky was an unbelievable blue that Tuesday morning. It was an unbelievably beautiful day in New York.

Then the world changed.

I was beginning a new job and then was to have my first class at Union Theological Seminary.  Union Seminary is fortunately some 4 miles uptown from where the Twin Towers were. However, Manhattan is a small island of interconnections. Uptown we heard the sirens, saw the smoke, saw the dazed and panicked faces walking along Broadway. Columbia’s Presbyterian hospital soon filled with people looking to give blood or to help in some way.

I, new to the City & uncertain of what was happening, was beyond scared. Once it became clear that it was a terrorist attack, my mind went to the Jewish Theological Seminary, open and unprotected just across the street from Union. It was an easy target and too close, and politically significant for a terrorist. Then there was Riverside Church whose steeple is nothing compared to the Twin Towers but on the Upper Westside was pretty high and pretty symbolic. 

The sounds of military planes that soon filled the sky also became worrisome. How do you tell the difference between a military plane flying overhead and a terrorist-hijacked plane flying as a bullet toward you?

Then, the Missing person flyers started going up. A photo of a person with the word “missing” above it. A ubiquitous symbol of a tragedy and hope, a hope beyond hope, a heartbroken hope, a hope deferred. One flyer I saw is burned in my memory. One of the most beautiful photo I ever saw. A face Michelangelo could not turn away from.  Missing.

I also remember watching the Today show a few days later. A young wife was talking about her husband lost in the Twin Towers attack. They had just celebrated their 7th anniversary the day before. September 10, 1994. The day your mom and I were married. September 10, 2001, a happy 7th celebration. The lucky 7th, without the itch. September 11, 2001. 9-11. Their marriage broken in two without reason. Ours still standing. By the grace of God. Or a less gracious fate. I don’t know.

Riverside Church’s carillon bells were just beginning to be repaired in September 2001. All through the fall and winter they remained silent. I had not heard them once. Didn’t even know they existed.

Easter of 2002, March 31, 3-31. Fixed, resurrected, the bells rang that Sunday morning. They rang with an ecstatic flurry in an extra-long Easter bell peal. Certainly, the ringing bells filled the air that beautiful morning. It was the first time since 9/11 I was able to purposefully listen to music and not turn away.

A few months later, Bruce Springsteen’s powerful and profound record came out. It was his first record with the E-Street Band, his musical family, his community, in 17 years. Just their reuniting helped our healing.

“The Rising” is an Easter song, Corey. Christian imagery is all throughout the song. A carrying of a cross – sixty pounds feeling like a stone. Shoulders carrying the weight of the world, a line of suffering, ignorance, and injustice, and wrong to work through and clear. No turning back. No way to escape the darkness, no way to go back to the easier past with all its successes and hope. No way to escape to an easier future when the grief is gone. Just hardship here and now.

Good Friday is inescapable. It is a long day of no way out.

But Jesus knew there is a rising coming. Sunday is coming. It kept him going.

Come on up for the rising.

And Jesus carrying his cross, well, it is real and salvation-giving. It is also a metaphor of us carrying our own crosses.

The cross of grief comes to mind as we consider the last few weeks in this community and for you. I know you lost a friend, son. 

Jesus in the march toward the Cross is making his way through the darkness. The chain of sorrow and pain binds him. He's lost to his past and his future. That is us too enduring the grief of loss, the sadness and pain of the cross we cannot avoid carrying.

But there is a rising coming, son. We have to rise with it.

Come on up for the rising.

This rising is likened to the bell ringing. A pealing across the neighborhood. Even amid the cross that we must wear and bear, even amid the cross we cannot avoid, the cross we are called to carry, the bell rings, the Easter bell proclaiming the rising is ringing.

Easter’s seed was there on Good Friday. As Good Friday progressed into Saturday, the seed of Easter was planted. That seed contained within it the miracle of new life, of the rising to come.

Faces may go away, Corey. Our bodies will die. But God’s eyes in us, our spiritual eyes will burn bright and enlighten the truth of eternity. And the same blood that gave those bodies life before, the same blood that gave Jesus life, flows in us and gives us life. That blood binds us together.

And that blood is the life of God, the light of God, a fiery light that is as beautiful as it is powerful. We stand before it and realize the reality of Easter.

Come on up for the rising.

Before we get to the climax of our story, son, Springsteen mentions Mary.

“I see you Mary in the garden, in the garden of a thousand sighs. There’s holy pictures of our children dancing in a sky filled with light. “

It is not clear which Mary. It seems to me maybe it is Mary Magdalene. Maybe we have Jesus remembering Mary Magdalene.  

But we don’t have to go there. I know you aren't crazy about churchy stuff right now. Someone is remembering a love, a wife, a person with whom they shared children, with whom they raised children. There is loss. There is a prayer, a hope, a longing for togetherness and a sharing of life once again. "May I feel your arms around me. May I feel your blood – [your life, your continuing life] - mix with mine."

There is sorrow. There are tears. There is sadness and fear. There are shadows and emptiness.

But yet, there is a dream of life. It comes to us. It comes to you and it comes to me. There is an inner knowledge, unconscious even, there is an insight as real as our breath -- the life of love cannot remain dead. The dream of life cannot go unrealized.

Come on up for the rising.

An endless love joins our tears. A godly Glory sings through the sadness. A divine Mercy sits next to fear and to those who are fearful. Sacred Memory gives light as it gives us shadow. Fullness and blessed light crescendo above the longing and emptiness. You may not understand it now, but you will, that I am certain of.

This is the Resurrection. This is the Rising. This is Easter. That amid the darkness of life’s finiteness, an infinite light shines forth and keeps giving us life.

Come on up for the Rising, put your hands in mine.

Let us as a family and as a community, in the wake of loss and loneliness, heal together. Feel the burning wind, the warmth of the spirit, fill our arms, our hearts, our souls. Come on up – it is Easter. The healing is now possible. Amen.

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