"Come On Up for The Rising"

"I left my house this morning. Bells ringing filled the air." (from "The Rising," by Bruce Springsteen)

This lyric hits me deep, son. 

Bruce Springsteen’s record The Rising and the song of the same name 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 Eleventh . 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 a beautiful day in New York with crystalline skies reaching high into heaven.

Then the world changed.

My first class at Union Theological Seminary as to start on 9/11. Before that class, I was at work for a couple hours. A call into work gave us the news, news we could not possibly fathom.

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 and 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 maybe politically significant for a terrorist. Then there was Riverside Church whose steeple is nothing compared to the Twin Towers but on the Upper Westside stands rather high and symbolic as well. 

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 photos 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. Celebration, laughter, contentment.

September 11, 2001. 9-11. Their marriage broken in two without reason. Grief, cries, desperation.

There, by the grace of God, went we.

The Rising was Springsteen's first record in many years with the E-Street Band, his musical family, his community. Just their reuniting helped some of my healing.

“The Rising” is the title track and it is an Easter song, Corey. Look at the lyrics and this becomes clear. 

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, a hard line to work through and clear.

There's no turning back other than in remembering. No way to escape the darkness here and now. 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 and grueling days.

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

Still, somehow, somewhere "there's a way out of no way." Somehow the stone is rolled away. Somehow Friday turns into Sunday. Somehow weeping lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning. This faith kept Jesus going. 

Come on up for the rising.

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

The cross of loneliness and grief is the cross we carry these days as we consider the last few weeks in this community. It is more personal for you, I know. You lost a friend, son, and you can't understand it. Who can?

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

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

Come on up for the rising.

This rising is a bell ringing. A pealing clamor across the neighborhood. 

Back in 2001, in the wake of 9/11 on the Upper Westside, Riverside Church’s carillon bells which on Sunday mornings would serenade the neighborhood sat silent. They were in repair that year and into 2002. All through that fall and into winter the church bells did not sing. I had not heard them once. Didn’t even know they existed. Sunday after Sunday came and went that Winter, and the music of bells did not resonate.

Easter of 2002, March 31, 3-31, those bells were reborn. 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. Neither the searing sadness nor the jaunting memory disappeared. Hopes for this are futile. But music returned to soften it all.
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 bells will find a way to ring, the Easter bell will find a way to sound and resound, making clear the rising is ringing. 

Come on up for the rising.

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

Faces may go away, Corey. Our bodies will die. But God’s eyes that see 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, that sacred lineage, 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, I want to talk about Mary whom Springsteen mentions in the song.

“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. What is for certain, someone is remembering a love, a wife, a partner, 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, 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 and glorious Grace 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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