Tom Canavan was buried alive when the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001.
He was on the forty-seventh floor of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 struck his building at 8:46 a.m. He and his colleagues began to slowly descend the stairwells to safety when a second plane hit the South Tower.
Canavan and four of his colleagues emerged in an underground area filled with shops. Then the South Tower collapsed. He said, “I felt the thump, thump, and then I was just smashed to the ground like a bug. Everything went dark.”
He thought of his son’s upcoming third birthday party and how he would never meet the little girl his pregnant wife was carrying. He was saved, however, because a large cement wall fell over him and another man, creating a safe pocket in the pile of twisted steel rebar and debris. The two began crawling and digging their way up through the rubble until they saw a peephole of light and got their first breath of fresh air.
“I squeezed myself through the hole,” he said. A few more minutes underground and he would undoubtedly have perished when the North Tower collapsed.
Canavan plans to attend the twentieth anniversary tomorrow. He said, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of something that day, whether it’s a person, whether it’s a noise, whether it’s a plane flying low. It’ll never go away. I’ve come to terms with that. When people use a phrase, ‘get over it.’ This isn’t something you get over.”
More Americans than ever before now agree that 9/11 permanently changed life in the US. New York Times columnist Charles Blow was right: “I am—we all are—covered forever with a bit of ash from those towers.”
This week, we have considered the urgency and privilege of wearing Jesus’ “yoke” by submitting to his lordship daily (Matthew 11:29). As we consider the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 tomorrow, let’s close the week by identifying four lessons from that tragic day that show us how much we need our Master’s leading and care today.
One: The world can change in a moment.
The Manhattan skyline before and after 9/11 is a powerful symbol of the unpredictability of the future and the speed at which life can change forever. Especially poignant are photographs recovered from photojournalist Bill Biggart’s camera; he took pictures of the burning Twin Towers but died when the North Tower collapsed. The images he left are more moving than I can communicate in words.
Tomorrow is promised to no one. That’s why “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
Two: We are all mortal.
Minister and author Max Lucado announced this week that he has been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm and asked for prayer. This after Tim Keller provided an update on his battle with pancreatic cancer. The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 will be observed in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century and fears that future variants could be even worse.
James observed, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). We have only today to be ready for eternity.
Three: What we don’t know can change everything.
Few Americans had heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda twenty years ago. The 9/11 hijackers were “essentially hiding in plain sight,” as one official said later. In light of what we didn’t know on September 10, 2001, we should ask what we don’t know on September 10, 2021.
You and I need to seek and follow God’s “perfect” will for each day because only he can see tomorrow and guide us to our best future (Romans 12:2).
Four: This fallen world is not our home.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was crushed on 9/11 beneath the falling South Tower; it was the only house of worship destroyed in the attacks. Now a shrine to replace the church is nearing completion. But the true Church is not a building and thus cannot be destroyed. She will continue attacking the gates of hell until our Lord returns (Matthew 16:18).
You and I are eternal beings living in temporary bodies on a temporary planet. Every day brings us one day closer to the day when we step from death into life, from time into eternity. We can live with great confidence and courage, secure in the knowledge that the worst that can happen to us leads to the best that can happen to us.
Jesus’ promise is for each of us: “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).
“He must win the battle”
As we mark the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 tomorrow, let us remember those who died and pray for their families. Let us remember the military heroes who died in the decades following to keep us safe and pray for their families as well.
And let us remember these facts: the world can change in a moment, we are all mortal, what we don’t know can change everything, and this fallen world is not our home. As a result, let us wear Jesus’ yoke today, trusting his leadership, redemption, and care until the day he leads us home.
On the Sunday after 9/11, I preached on a promise found in Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). Our congregation claimed this promise by singing the triumphant words of Martin Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.
I’ll close by inviting you to make my favorite stanza your faith commitment today:
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing.
Were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and he must win the battle.
Are you wearing his yoke today?