Good Friday – Silence
The Rev. Keely Franke
April 22, 2011
Seven years ago my grandmother died. I sat, playing the piano one afternoon. Carsten, my husband, was gone on a business trip and so I played to an empty house. We had been expecting my grandmother’s death for a few weeks. My family at home took turns sitting around her bed and tending to things. But all I could do was wait from several hundred miles away. And so I played the piano a lot during these days. It’s something I do when I’m waiting.
This afternoon was different, though. In the middle of a piece I was playing something recoiled inside of me. I pulled my hands back away from the piano and sat, in silence. Then I moved to a chair in my office and looked out the window for about half an hour. The world had fallen silent. There were birds hopping around and other life going on outside, but inside, my world was silent. The telephone rang, breaking the silence. It was my mom calling to tell me that granny had died. I nodded and said I knew, then hung up the phone, and continued to sit as warm tears began to roll down my face.
We usually gather here at St. John’s today to hear meditations on the Seven Last Words of Christ. Words that include: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” “I thirst,” and “It is finished.” Tonight at a service at seven you can hear Haydn’s Seven Last Words played. But this afternoon we gather rather to reflect on silence. The silence of death, of God’s death on the cross.
The passion just read from John might as well be set to the screen of a silent film. There is great action: a couple hundred soldiers entering a garden carrying flames and weapons, one of Jesus’ silly men caught up in the heat of the moment cutting an ear off one of the hundreds of men, Jesus holding him back and then Jesus’ friends disappearing into the background. The only words spoken from his loved ones are those from Peter – “I do not know him.”
Jesus is charged amidst large crowds and then crucified. On the cross Jesus motions for his mother to go into John, the beloved disciple’s, care, a little while later he then hangs his head and dies. John’s Jesus doesn’t cry out to God. God is already silent. So why would he?
C.S. Lewis wrote in his book “A Grief Observed” about the death of his beloved wife. It is one of his most honest and real reflections on God. In it he says this: “Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once…Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
The thing we fear perhaps most about death is the silence. Anyone who has sat next to the bed of a dying person knows this. With each new breath there is a selfish sort of relief and at the same time an ensuing sense of dread for the last to come. Towards the end the breath of the dying is usually the only sound we have and we hang on to it as it shortens. Sometimes two minutes of silence can go between breaths before the person gasps for another. Until the final breath comes. And the body let’s go. And there is a deafening silence, which leaves us empty.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” John begins. God created life by breathing out and speaking it into existence and it is that very Word which died on Golgatha today, which went silent. Jesus was removed from the cross, wrapped in cloth and anointed with perfumes and oil and laid in an empty tomb. Which by holding his corpse was made even more empty and silent.
Barbara Brown Taylor reflects: “The God who keeps silence, even when God’s own flesh and blood is begging for a word, is the God beyond anyone’s control. An answer will come, but not until the silence is complete. And even then, the answer will be given in silence. With the cross and the empty tomb, God has provided us with two events that defy all our efforts to domesticate them. Before them, and before God who is present in them, our most eloquent words turn to dust.”
The most difficult part of death is the silence. My grandmother who had something to say about everything no longer had even a word to say about my life. No words for when I got married, no words when I decided to enter the path towards priesthood, no words when I was ordained. Her words weren’t always positive, though, so maybe I should be happy about this, but I still miss them.
Today the Word died and so we sit together in silence, and we wait. The
Word came out of silence in the first place. God breathed in before God breathed out. So we too take a breath in and wait. Wait for the next word that will pierce the silence on the third day.
“A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis
“When God is Silent” by Barbara Brown Taylor