When Words Have No Place

I make my living with words. I love words. I pay attention to words and how they work. I get frustrated when people use “anxious” when they mean “eager.” (Anxious means we’re anticipating a bad outcome and eager means we’re expecting a good outcome). I also know the power of a pause in the middle of your sermon. There are moments when you should let your congregation think about, even if it’s for a moment, what you’ve just told them in your sermon. Most counselors will tell you the hardest thing to learn is how to be quiet during a session. Silence is hard.

As much as I love words, there have been many times when I couldn’t think of anything to say. I stood with a couple by the coffin of their child and I couldn’t say anything. I just cried with them. When one of my best friends had a terminal illness and I stopped by for what I knew would be the last time, there were long periods of time when we didn’t say anything. Finally, he looked at me and said, “Mike, I’m good.” Sometimes, words, as good as they are, simply have no place.

Most of us hate silence. Let the church go silent in between hymns and someone will have to cough or clear their throat. Most of us aren’t comfortable with silence.

Yet, silence, once you learn to listen to it, can say a lot of things. There’s the silence of disappointment. The way a favorite teacher looks at you and says nothing in that moment when your behavior has been particularly below standard and their silence emphasizing their frustration. The silence of a spouse when their words have been frozen in years of resentment and unexpressed anger can a lifetime of pain by saying nothing at all. There’s the silence of wonder and awe when we see a sunrise or sunset that can’t be described. Silence that finally gives way to tears when you try to describe what you felt when you looked into the face of your newborn child for the first time.

When I read the story of Jesus last hours, I’m amazed at how silent Jesus was. If it had been me, I would have ben loudly protesting how my rights had been violated. I would be demanding my lawyers. I would tell those accusing me what kinds of hypocrites they were. That, and a million other reasons, is why I wasn’t there and Jesus was.

So, why was Jesus so quiet? What was He trying to tell us in His silence? What was it He could have said to the religious leaders? to Pilate? to the crowd that would have made any difference? What could He have said that He hadn’t already said? Maybe Jesus is silent because there was nothing left for Him to say. He had given us His truth. Jesus had laid out the plan for us. What else could He say so that all of us would suddenly get it and realize who Jesus was?

For that matter, a lot of other people were silent as well. The disciples didn’t say anything. I don’t blame them. They wouldn’t want to draw any unwanted attention to themselves. Everyone who claimed to love Jesus disappeared into the darkness. Some of them stayed close enough to watch, but no one said anything. Everyone was silent. The way the gospel writers describe it, the whole universe was silent. The sun went dark as if nature itself couldn’t bear to watch the death of Jesus.

You can’t scream loud enough as you watch Him die. Nothing makes sense. The last hours of Jesus’ life overwhelm us. We are swamped into silence.

Maundy Thursday leaves us speechless. Friday’s darkness snuffs out our words.

Next week, we’ll have plenty to say, but right now. Nothing. What can we say? He came to rescue us and we didn’t want to be rescued. Not by him. Not on His terms. We rejected Him.

So, He walked to the cross alone and we didn’t say anything. What could we say? It’s our fault. We’re to blame. There’s nothing left for us to say.

If anything is said now, it won’t be by us. God Himself will have to speak. As in creation, the whole world heaves and creaks, shapeless and without form. If someone’s going to break this silence, only the God the Father will be able to speak that word.

Until then, we’ll wait in silence. We’ll hate every minute of it. With each second, the darkness grows heavier. It’s our fault.

There’s nothing left for us to say.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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