As you can see, the service this evening is set in the context of the “Seven Last Words.” I’ve always found the seven last words inspiring and a fitting to honor Jesus’ sacrifice and remember the price he paid for our sins.
The seven last words remind us of how Jesus suffered the humiliation of an agonizing death in order that we might share in the glory of his resurrection and promise of eternal life.
We need to hold on to the seven last words and rehearse them often. But we need to add to them another word from the Cross – an eighth word, if you will – and that’s the word of silence. For after the shouting of the angry mob was quieted and the groaning of pain and agony had ceased; after the weeping of the loved ones had mellowed into whimpers and the body was anointed and wrapped and laid in that cold, dark tomb, there was silence.
Can you imagine the silence of the tomb? Can you fathom the loneliness and the loss – the despair – that that silence represents? The hopes of the faithful were consumed by the awesome stillness of that moment.
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We all know how disturbing silence can be. It arouses feelings of emptiness and void. And our first impulse is to fill the void with words, for we are unaccustomed to silence. It makes us uncomfortable.
If we’re alone for any length of time, we unthinkingly flip on the television set or the radio. If we’re with another person, we strike up a conversation, for to sit with another person in silence – whether it’s your best friend or a total stranger – makes us restless and uneasy. And so, to dispel the silence, we speak, even if we have nothing to say.
It’s little wonder that in our hurried, harried, hectic world of noise and strife we have little silence. We’re inundated by words. And the very preponderance of words can numb our senses and stifle our ability to listen. In his book, The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen writes,
“Words have lost their creative power. Their limitless multiplication has made us lose confidence in words and cause us to think, ‘They are just words.’
“Teachers speak to students …
but the students often emerge from the experience
with the feeling, ‘They are just words.’
“Preachers preach their sermons week after week …
but their parishioners remain the same
and think, ‘They are just words.’
“Politicians, businessmen, (celebrities) and popes give speeches …
but those who listen say, ‘They are just words.’” (p. 46)
By contrast, Nouwen goes on to say:
“The Word of God is born out of the eternal silence of God …
for silence is the home of the word.
Silence gives strength and fruitfulness to the word.
We can even say that words are meant
to disclose the mystery of the silence from which they come.” (p. 48)
Nouwen is not the first to discover the power of silence. The theme recurs through the ages. Centuries before, the Psalmist wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Even contemporary songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel knew of this awesome reality when they sang of “The Sound of Silence.”
In the midst of the myriad of words that bombard our ears, perhaps the very word we most need to hear is the word of silence.
We’ve all experienced it, at one time or another.
Like when two lovers gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, there are moments when words are merely noisy distractions offering nothing to what is already being said.
Or when lifelong friends stand together over the grave of a dear, departed loved one. At such times words simply get in the way.
Surely, this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote,
“the Spirit also helps our weaknesses,
for we don’t know how to pray as we ought.
But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us
with groanings which can’t be uttered (Romans 8:26).
We tend to think that if our words ran out, we’d lose all hope. Just the opposite is true. For when we have said all that we know to say, there is yet another word to be spoken, and it is the word of silence.
Perhaps silence is God’s final word. For silence is more than the absence of sound; true silence has substance, and, in that substance, presence. And it is from the depths of silence, as we stand in awe before the presence of God, that faith is born.
It happened to the disciples as they waited outside the tomb. It can happen to us. And so, on this Good Friday, as you reflect upon the passion and death of Jesus, as you’re confronted anew with the reality of your own sin and death, if you’re willing to say nothing and, instead, be embraced with the word of silence … who knows? Perhaps you too shall experience the triumph of his crucifixion and share in the glory of his resurrection to eternal life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2007, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.