Saturday, September 4, 2021

O God, Our Help

The quiet notes of the piano played behind the pastor's prayer.  In my mind I began to sing the words of the familiar hymn...O God, Our Help in Ages Past.  That hymn has played in my spirit like a tape recording on a reel as I've watched the coverage of our troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.  It has been a heavily emotional week, with memories tugging my heart.  What does it mean for our nation and our world?

The hymn drew my thoughts back twenty years.  Because of the September 11 attack, the country was called to a day of prayer by President George W. Bush.  The service at the National Cathedral was broadcast in its entirety and I will always remember the scene.  I found it on You Tube (C-Span) and watched that 2001 service with 2021 eyes.  All the living presidents and first ladies at that time were there except President Reagan who was too ill to attend.  There they stood...the Carters, Fords, Clintons, elder Bushes, and George and Laura Bush.  Behind them were rows and rows of members of Congress and other national leaders.  As the service began, they stood together and sang the words written in 1708 by Isaac Watts:

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast, 
and our eternal home;

under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guide while life shall last
and our eternal home.

Could we have a service like this again?  Would all the living presidents put their differences aside and sit together for an hour?  The country is so did we get from there to here?  We had just been slammed on our own shores like never before...more than 3,000 lives lost when the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell, the Pentagon was attacked and passenger planes went down at the hands of armed hijackers.  And the theme of the prayer service was national unity.  Several speakers remarked that we were coming together to face a common enemy and we would be stronger together in recovery from this tragedy.  

We fought that common enemy for twenty years.  The enemy still lives.  And what is next?  What do we do now?  As we observe September 11, 2021, I believe the only answer is to go forward, leaning on the One who has been our help in ages past.  The words are just as strong today as when they were written in 1708: 

Be thou our guide while life shall last 
and our eternal home.