Good Friday is so loud.
Can you hear the noise?
From the chaos of the crowd to the sound of driven nails.
From the shouts of “crucify him” to the laughter of those mocking the one called the king of the Jews.
From the laughter of those gambling for what’s left of his clothes to the rattling earthquake that shook the whole world.
It’s a loud story, each sound reminding us that there are too many things which defy God’s righteousness and love.
I think the noise of this day is why I’m always drawn to the silence.After all of that noise, all of that chaos, we finally hear silence.
Can you hear it?
“And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
And then the silence.
On its own—devoid of context—silence is neutral.
Sometimes the silence holds such hope, such promise.
Looking down at your newborn child—and before you can say anything—before there are words—there is such hope—such promise. And the silence seems to become hope itself. And that hope-filled silence immerses you into something deeper and truer than you’ve known before.
You know those moments—moments so quiet—so holy—that the whole world opens before you.
The silence that descends before a first kiss.
The silence that holds space between you and your aging parents when words are hard to come by, but not because they’re difficult, but because it’s all been so good, and that holy silence is enough.
The silence that sweeps you into its grip when you stand before something so beautiful that a million words or strokes of a paintbrush or clicks of the shutter could never capture.
Only the silence. The kind of silence that holds hope. That is hope.
So silence isn’t a problem…until it is.
There is a kind of silence that defies and destroys and damns.Do you know that silence?
It’s the silence that comes as a wall between you and someone you love—after the anger, the hurt, the pain spills out in an eruption of words—and the silence is there—between you—and it steals every ounce of hope you had.
It’s the silence of the church in the face of injustice.
It’s the silence of the privileged who know what saying something could cost them.
It’s the silence between Peter’s denial—I do not know him—and the rooster’s cry.
Do you know that kind of silence, that damning silence that leaves you searching for something, for anything, to make sense again?
That silence is terrible. But even so—while hope is hard to find there—it is not dead. Even in that kind of silence there is the possibility that—as bad as it may now be—it could get better. We can imagine otherwise. Maybe, just maybe, even that terrible silence can end in hope.
Which is why the silence at the end of Good Friday is just about the worst silence I can imagine.
Jesus has been killed, and now, as John tells us, he is placed in the tomb and Friday ends—in silence. And is there a silence more absent of sound than beside the fresh grave of someone we love?
And it wasn’t just Jesus that was sealed in the tomb. It was hope itself. His followers believed him to be the one who finally spoke truth, whose power came through the strength of vulnerable love, whose words stirred something within them that they’d never sensed before. His voice—his call—sounded a note so true that their whole selves came alive.
This one, they thought, this is the one for whom we have waited. This is the one full of grace and truth and in him we have discovered what it means to be known—to be loved—to have hope.
Now just the silence of the tomb—that damning silence that screams that you were foolish to put your trust in Jesus—to follow him. The silence that proclaims that death gets the final word—always—and death has spoken and so you are left there—in that damning silence in which there is no possibility, no hope, not even a way to imagine anything other than what you’ve got.
That is the silence of Good Friday.And it is that silence that skulks into Holy Saturday as well. That silence when nothing seems to be happening, when nothing even seems possible.
And that’s why it’s important to know whose silence it is.
Whenever uncomfortable moments of silence happen in conversations, I’ve always held onto a question that counselors ask themselves in those moments: Whose silence is it? In other words, who should end the silence, who should speak next?
On that first Good Friday, everyone thought the silence belonged to death. And who could blame them for thinking that? Maybe you’ve thought that a time or two yourself.
But this silence of Good Friday? This silence belongs to God.
A number of years ago, I was sitting with a family as they told stories about their father who had just died. They had grown up on a farm, surrounded by cornfields, and they each remembered how their father had taken them out into those fields in the middle of the night—into the darkness—into the silence—and they would stop somewhere in the middle of that field and just wait—and listen.
And they told me they could hear the corn growing.
You couldn’t see it. You might not have been able to see it change if you had wanted to—but you could hear it—if you listened in the silence of that moment.
I’ve not yet ventured into a cornfield in the late night silence to see if I can hear what they heard, but I have sat in another darkness. I remember sitting in a darkened sanctuary, all the light gone, no sound, just silence and darkness near the end of the Tenebrae Service.
I just sat there. And I waited for that hungering darkness, that suffocating silence to end—and then, the bang on the drum as the strepitus sounded—the loud noise shattering the silence with its reminder that this silence does not belong to death—it belongs to God—so watch and wait and listen for the sounds of what God is up to—even in this terrible silence—to make all things new.
Because when this silence ends—when God ends this silence—the whole world will sing:
Christ is risen! Earth and heaven nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: “Christ is risen! Get you gone!
”God the First and Last is with us. Sing Hosanna everyone!
(Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna! by Brian Wren, 1984)
But now, we wait.
And as we wait, we remember that today’s silence belongs to our God. And because this silence doesn’t belong to Death, but to God, we’ll also do something more than just wait.
We will hope.