Home is where one starts from.
The Most Reverend & Right
Honourable. George C.
Westminster Abbey - 29 November 2001
'Home is where one starts from.' Those are the striking words of T.S. Eliot towards the end of his great poem 'East Coker'. For most of us 'home' is a precious word and a special place, cherished above all by those of us whose lives have been cradled in love, affection and happiness - a gift indeed without price.
It is part of the tragedy of so many of those we honour here today that their lives ended far from home. They were taken from us so suddenly, so completely without warning, on that cloudless American morning thousands of miles away. Far from family and friends and all those gathered here today to mourn their passing.
Despite those great physical distances it is clear from the stories that survive them that love and affection were, in a sense, never far off. We recall the moving accounts of those who at the last moment were able to phone a loved one and say, 'I love you'. Not 'Do you love me?' but 'I love you'.
I read of one young man who managed to contact a friend with a message to pass on to his family. His final words were: 'I don't think I am going to make it, John - have a great life.' There is something quietly but truly inspiring about that - that someone staring death in the face should be looking to life, the life of others.
And such stories abound: The young father, for example, who telephoned his wife from a doomed plane, still determined to do all he could to foil the hijackers. 'Be strong', he told her. 'Grasp life - live it for me.'
Many lives were saved that day by the selfless bravery of others. The exhausted man on the fortieth floor who was given water and fresh hope by a complete stranger - a stranger who simply wouldn't let him give up, dragging the man by his collar, onwards to safety.
And let us remember too, the extraordinary heroism of the emergency services in New York - the police, the fire officers and the medical teams. Though many of them would deny it, they were not 'simply doing a job'.
There are no adequate words for the shameful and evil deeds of the eleventh of September. And there are probably no words for the pain and loss you, the bereaved, have suffered. The rest of us may take perhaps a little comfort from the fact that fewer of our compatriots were lost than once seemed likely. But we also know that even one innocent life lost is one too many. Each was a unique individual and a fellow human being - with so much still to live for and to offer.
Most were young, professional people, often with glittering careers. Some were single. But there were those who were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers - and many have left young children behind. They were dedicated to work and to home. But they were also dedicated to others. We know that because some lost their lives when, disregarding their own safety, they went back to help those in greater need. Each death has severed a multitude of bonds of love and friendship. Each person lost is so deeply missed today.
At such times, it is natural to ask, as I imagine many of you have done so: 'Where was God when we needed him?' Of course this is a fundamental question that all religions must address, and it has no easy answers. The Christian answer is Cross-shaped. It replies: 'God is there in our good times as well as in our bad. He is there at our beginning and our end. He is there with that beggar, shivering at the foot of the World Trade Centre; he is there with that girl boarding a plane unwittingly in Boston; he is there with that perspiring man rushing for a 9.00 o'clock appointment on the 99th floor. He is there also in the sufferings of the innocent and destitute caught up in a conflict in Afghanistan, which they never started, and which they can't resolve.' As Christians, we begin to find an answer in the crucified and risen Christ. In him we meet the God who has entered fully into the suffering, sin and evil of the world, and yet is not finally overcome by them.
But even so, general answers can only take us so far. Other responses have to come out of the fabric of individual human lives. I am reminded of a dear friend who lost his three children in separate accidents, each dying under the age of 30. One day I asked him: 'Have you and your wife never asked of God "why?"'. I got a remarkable reply from a truly remarkable friend: 'Of course I have asked God "why?"' he said gently, 'but I soon discovered that is not the right question. The proper question is "How?" - "how may I use my suffering to help others and to point the way to God's love?"'
That was an extraordinary response. It is a response that may seem beyond us when our grief remains fresh and raw. I understand that. But I also believe that part of coming to terms with the suffering of September 11 involves seeking to bring good out of evil. We must find a better way, a better future for our wonderful but broken world. Surely, the men and women we remember here today would want that.
So, yes, let us commit ourselves anew to tackle the awful conditions in which so many of our fellow human beings live. Conditions which to our shame we do not seem able to muster the enduring will or the resources to overcome. Let us strive to narrow the gap between the world's rich and the poor. Yes, let us feed the hungry, those who lack food - but let us also meet the needs of those who lack a school or a teacher, a doctor or medicine. Yes, let us work sincerely and even-handedly for justice - the justice that may bring the balm of peace to those open wounds that deface our dealings as nations, peoples and communities.
And as we do so, we must hope to transform the fear, hatred and despair which offer such fertile breeding ground for terrorism. Let us seek this not only for those who will come after us, but also for those who have gone before - among them, those we mourn today.
But whatever good we bring forth from the events of September 11, nothing and no cause can justify its barbarity. Those who claimed to be serving God by such appalling and indiscriminate bloodshed are cruelly deceived. They besmirch the very basis of true faith.
And as a spiritual leader, I want to acknowledge that the religions of the world must also take up a challenge. We must put our own houses in order, so that we are never seen to be providing a religious mandate for acts of terrorism. We must build on the best of our faiths, not the worst.
'Home is where one starts from', Eliot wrote. And the same poem ends with the magnificent words, 'In my end is my beginning'. Yes, we leave home but we also return to it.
So what and where is this home from which we are never ultimately separated?
In that first reading St Paul tells us that 'Nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord'. God's love is that abiding reality which awaits us even when 'tower and temple fall to dust'. It is the same love which surrounds your loved ones and each one of us, the present and the departed.
It is a love which offers us and your dearest and your best an eternal dwelling place, an eternal home.