The Silence of God – Good Friday Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
God is silent. Bowing His head, He “gives up the ghost” (Jn 18:1-19:42). If you’ve ever witnessed a person dying, you know the rattling struggle for air, then the last exhaling of breath, and then peace and quiet at last.
We call the Second Person of God logoV, the Word, because He is the story told by God the Father from all eternity, the poem He has always recited, the love-song always sung. He is also how God communicates with the world, a word for every ear, reason for every mind, wisdom for every heart. When He came amongst us as Jesus, it was with words of comfort and consolation, of challenge and correction, of doctrine and story, of judgment and healing. His were the great Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, the Our Father, the sublime parables, the farewell discourse.
Today the Word communicates His last words to us, amidst the cacophony of trial and execution, amidst earthquake and thunder, despite torture of body and soul. He has words for every class of person. For His friends: “Put away the sword… Behold your new Mother,” Mother of the Church. He tells those arresting Him: “Yahweh – I am He” and so authoritative are those words, St John tells us “they retreated and fell to the ground”. He tells His judge, “I am a King, but not of this world. For this I came into the world” – to be its heavenly King – “and to bear witness to the Truth.” To complete strangers He says, “Forgive them Father… Join me in paradise”. To His Mother, “Behold your new son,” the Church. And to His Father, “Do not abandon Me, God… Into your hands I commend My spirit.” Finally, in company with every suffering person, He lets out the cry of a tortured body and a tormented soul, loud enough to rend the very veil of the Temple asunder.
So there were words and cries; yet bit by bit they silenced Him. They sent officials to tell Him to shut up and, when He would not, sent soldiers to arrest Him. There was little opportunity to speak in His own defence and when there was, “like a lamb to the slaughter-house; harshly dealt with, He never opened His mouth” (Isa 52:13-53:12). He offered up “entreaties in silent tears”, as our epistle attests (Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9). Finally, they killed Him, laid Him in a tomb, rolled a stone across, consigning Him to eternal silence, to that quietest of all places, the land of the Dead. The Word of God is now… the Silence of God.
Our God can be a quiet God at times. He may speak to us in the quiet of some retreat, in tranquility before the Blessed Sacrament, in “the still small breeze” (1Kgs 19:12), in the first breath of the newborn or the last breath of the dying. Indeed, He sometimes seems too quiet, so that even the dying Christ could cry out on our behalf, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We sometimes wish God were louder and clearer and closer.
Yet whether it is in screams or in sounds of silence, in presence or absence, the Crucified One reveals God is there in it all, with us through it all; in the big noise of our lives and the background breathing. Last night I reflected with you upon how Christ prepared His disciples for trial by feeding them, for burial by washing them. Christians are not the only persecuted people in the world today and sometimes in history they have been the oppressors: but most by far of those persecuted for their faith today are Christians and there are now more Christian martyrs every year than at any time in history. Only yesterday Islamist terrorists from the Al-Shabaab group killed 147 students at a Christian service in a Kenyan university. In response to this Christ commands us to wash and sustain each other, to put away the sword, to cultivate the greater strength of those who endure evil rather than perpetrate it, to keep watch with Him and pray, as His Blessed Mother did. Instead of violent recrimination He models saving and salving and making peace.
The Word of God is silent now the Silence of God and that silence speaks volumes. He kneels wordlessly to wash our feet. He goes quietly, forgivingly, to His trial and death. Tomorrow night we will learn whether there is cause to hope for an end to cruelty and for victory over death. But for now He breathes His last, a breath that will be the first breath of the Church. And He “gives up the ghost” that will be for us the Holy Ghost.