Sunday, April 8, 2012

Holy Silence, Heavenly Noise

The Resurrection of Our Lord, April 8th Year of Our + Lord 2012     
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Mark 15:42-47, 16:1-8 and John 20:1-18

Silence.  How do you like silence?  That depends, doesn’t it, on why you are in silence, on what the silence means.  Silence may be very bad, or very good, depending on why it has come.  Sometimes we crave silence, when the riotous cacophony of our frantic world makes our head pound and our thoughts scramble.  Then we want nothing more than some peace and quiet, to rest our ears and our hearts.  But other times, when we are crying out for someone, when we are in need or danger, when we are lost, then silence can be suffocating.    

You probably were not expecting silence, here, on this morning, were you?  Today we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the joyous revelation of His complete victory over sin, death and the devil, His Good Friday victory which Easter morning reveals is also our victory, His great gift of grace, delivered to us in Word, Water and Wine.  This is a morning for full throated singing, Jesus Christ is ris’n today, Alleluia!  We know that  Christ is raised and dies no more! 

And yet, there are silences.  We began this service with Mark’s words from the end of Good Friday, and from Holy Saturday.  And I inserted a silence as I read, a silence between that Sabbath rest, while Jesus’ body lay in the tomb, and the next morning, for certainly there was a deep silence then, on that Saturday, the silence of sorrow, of complete loss, because the best Man anyone had ever known was dead.  Jesus, who had shown such power in serving others, did nothing to defend Himself.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth;  like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away.  Yes, indeed, there was the silence of sorrow, and guilt, guilt for having fled from His suffering, guilt for having killed the Son of God, as even the Centurion recognized, when it was too late, guilt for being part of a human race that could so turn on its own Creator. 

We were not there, we did not know that silence, on that Holy Sabbath, so many centuries ago, but we still hear the echo of that silence.  The silence of sorrow, when someone who has loved you well suddenly is gone, dead, or ordered to another corner of the world, your beloved taken from you, leaving you with no words to say.  The silence of pain, when life is all against you, and no one understands or seems able to care about your needs, your fears.  The silence of loneliness, when you long for someone or something that you can’t even quite name, let alone find, loneliness which deadens your ears to the sounds of joy in the world.  And the silence of rejection, when the one person you most need to hear say, “I love you,” refuses to speak, refuses to be with you.

This last, the silence of rejection, was, I suspect, heaviest on the ears and hearts of Jesus’ followers, on that long ago Holy Saturday, and early on Sunday.  Some of them, Martha and Peter and others, had confessed Jesus to be the Son of God, God come into human flesh.  All of them believed and confessed Jesus was sent from God.  Now, humanity had killed God’s agent, God Himself, actually, the only-begotten Son of God tortured, and killed by crucifixion.  Now, what would God do to a people such as us?  What else could He do  but utterly reject us all? 

God was silent on that Saturday, the body of Jesus resting, fulfilling the Sabbath commandment, for us, in preparation for the great surprise, coming in the morning.  The women, faithful in death, headed to the tomb, to give Jesus’ a decent burial, speaking little, in hushed tones, no doubt, when they had to, such as to discuss the problem of the stone.  "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"

It was then that God began to speak again, first with the moving of the stone, for the women, so they could look into the tomb, to see and hear the young man, the white-robed messenger from God, sitting where Jesus had lain, speaking God’s word of peace:  "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has risen; he is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.  There you will see him, just as he told you."

Next came a different kind of silence, the silence of surprise, the silence of hoping against hope for an unexpected proclamation to be true.  The silence of wanting this good news to be true, but fearing another disappointment, fearing to look up in hope, hesitant to believe, lest they be struck down again, into sorrowful silence.  And so they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  For a time, still silent.  But this Word could not be held in.  The news is taken to Peter and John and the others, trembling words of hope are shared. 

And finally, Jesus steps into the silence.  Still caught between surprise and fear and doubt, Mary Magdalene is first to hear His voice.  “Where have you taken Him,” she asks the man whom she thinks is the gardener.  “Mary,” Jesus calls her name, and the silence of her heart is dispelled, the chorus of heaven breaks out, and she now has a word to speak:  “I have seen the Lord.”

The enormity of sin, and the fearfulness of God’s way of salvation still conspire to cause silence, even in heaven.  In Revelation, chapter 8, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, slain from the foundation of the world, but now reigning in glory, breaks the seventh and last seal on the great book of life, about to reveal His final victory, and then there is silence in heaven for about half an hour.  Imagine that, half an hour of silence, holy silence, in heaven. 

In the book of Revelation, this silence serves as a marker, before John returns to another cycle of sevens, the seven trumpet angels, who will rehearse the same symbolic description of the life of the Church of God on earth, until the Last Day.  Seven seals, seven trumpets, seven plagues are all used to describe the life of Christ’s persecuted Church on earth, leading up to the return of Christ.  Holy silence followed the breaking of the seventh seal, the end was not described, but we know the end of the story.  We know what follows the breaking of the seventh seal, and the seventh trumpet, and the seventh plague, because we know that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Sin was swallowed up in His sacrificial death, and now death no longer has power over Him.  Indeed, for all who are united with Him, all sins are washed away, and death is just the portal to life everlasting.  This free gift is for you, and for all who repent of their sins and believe in His Name. 

 It’s enough to leave you speechless.  The Holy Spirit will call forth your joyous confession of faith, sweet music to God’s ears, and good news for all the nations.  But there is also time for silence, amazed, joyful, holy silence, because what seemed to be utter loss, the deepest silence of sadness and rejection, has instead been revealed to be your new life.  Jesus has come to dispel the harsh and hurtful sounds of this world, and also the accusing voice of Satan, giving you instead His peace, peace with God won for sinners when He shed His blood.   

Life in this broken world, life as believers who still struggle with sin, is going to have painful silences.  But you can endure and even break these silences, because Jesus has also come to fill them.  Dispel sad silence by proclaiming the sweet Name of Jesus, the resurrected Savior of sinners.  He has come to be your friend in sorrow, your companion when all others reject you, and your forgiver, when it is your own sin that leaves you sorry in silence.    Whether you struggle with noise or silence, Christ has come give sweet peace, and heavenly noise, the sweet song of salvation, for you. 

And so, a few holy silences now and then as we worship are appropriate.  The red letter instructions in the order of Confession and Absolution call for silence.  Just before we actually confess our sins, and our sinfulness, the rubrics say: Silence for reflection on God’s Word and self-examination.  The silence of repentance for sin is indicated here, for much of God’s Word to us is Law, His will for our lives, His specific dos and don’ts, which, upon self-examination, always show us our sin, for which we deserve His rejection.  It is as the Psalmist writes:  When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away, groaning all day long.    

Silence for self-examination is indeed appropriate before confessing our sins.  But don’t get stuck there, you know what comes next.  Christians confess their sins in order to receive the absolution.  God’s Word does indeed contain damning law, but even more, God’s Word reveals and delivers the crucified and resurrected Jesus, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  In your silence before confessing your sins, remember how this Psalm continues, I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.  Before you confess, marvel in this grace-filled silence, for all that God has done for you, even forgiving your sins! 

Again, in just a few minutes, there will again be holy silence.  As those who will commune at this altar come forward, we kneel in silence, silent even as the congregation sings around us, silently awaiting from the Lord a gift that leaves us speechless:  Take, eat, this is my body, take drink, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  We eat and we drink, silently proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes, for we know that Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia.

United by faith to the risen Savior, forgiven and strengthened again by His Word and Sacrament, you need not fear silence, nor deafening noise, because Christ is your holy silence, and your heavenly noise, the very song of forgiveness, both for today, and forever and ever, Amen. 

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