And the governor asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
(St. Matthew xxvii. 11)
Silence is something that post-modern man cannot stand. Silence reveals a refusal to answer the immediate lusts, desires, passions, and impulses of a materialistic people. Silence is at the furthest remove from instant
gratification. Silence is then judged to be guilty; silence is always hiding something. Silence is up to no good. It must be plotting with the same feverish, impetuous, unsatisfied, and craving appetite that marks out most men in our age. Men cannot stand silence, for it demands stillness. And stillness frightens contemporary man; noise, talk, babble, and so much active doing protect him from ever facing the universe that stands before him - the self, or even the powers that lie hidden behind the scenes of immediate experience. Silence and
stillness, once the prerequisites to any creative man’s response to what was other than himself, seem conspicuously absent in this world of ours. And for that reason we no longer have schools of thought, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature. Rather we have a chaotic and unbridled unity of feelings, emotions, and animal passions pursuing their selfish wants and shaking the center should they fail to achieve the ends of their
I say all of this because what should strike us most poignantly in the tradition of this Holy Week that we now enter upon is the silence and stillness that characterizes the last days of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the everlastingly-begotten Word of God made flesh. And so how odd it is, then, that
the most important Word or Speech that the world has known or could have ever heard should remain so quiet as the world around him plots and plans, and successfully executes his demise and death. The best intentioned of his followers wondered why he did not perform some miracle to disband, confuse, scatter, and bring down his enemies. He opened the eyes of the blind; he unloosed the tongues of the deaf; he made lame legs to walk; he even drove many demons out of one tortured man named Legion. He resuscitated Lazarus. And so why
is he now so still and so silent? Why doesn’t he conquer pride, envy, jealousy, malice, and murderous hatred with the power of the Word he derives from his Father?
The answers to these questions are, of course, not easy ones. But for starters we might recall that when he did work a wonder or perform a miracle, more often than not, he said, See thou tellest no man. (St. Matthew viii. 4) His primary mission was to reveal his Father’s truth – his will, love, and forgiveness. I always do the things that please my Father. (St. John viii. 29) And as St. Paul reminds us this morning, we should have this mind among [ourselves], which is [ours] in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count
equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil. iii. 5-7) Though Jesus Christ is the eternal Word of God made flesh, its wisdom, power, and love which he shares with the Father are not things to be clung to selfishly or expressed forcibly, but gifts to be offered freely to all men who discover that they alone lead to God’s kingdom. What I mean to say is this: man’s true relationship with God is one of free will and choosing. True wisdom proves and establishes its own
credibility. True love or charity honors and respects every man’s innate ability to discover and cherish it, like a pearl of great price which [when a man has found it, he sells all that he has in order to possess it.]( St. Matthew xiii. 46) For the love of God is something to be unearthed and uncovered, through the stillness and silence of a pondering mind and a searching heart. It is neither easily obtained nor effortlessly
And this is why Jesus will be so silent and so still in this Holy Week of his Passion. Prior to the events that we commemorate this week, Jesus had labored relentlessly to prepare and dispose the hearts of his hearers to the
truth that he would reveal. As Jean Mouroux reminds us, Jesus showed unwearied devotion [to his Father], [wore] himself out with labour, [lacked] time even to eat, [sank] exhausted by the well [of Jacob], [even] slept in a sinking ship.(The Meaning of Man, p. 88) He had done and said all that he could to prepare for the spiritual truth that his suffering and death would reveal. And yet we read over and over again these words which he spoke to them were beyond their understanding. (St. Luke ii. 50) The best of men, his mother and his disciples, were always pressing upon him to reveal his nature prematurely with all force and vigor. They
have no wine, (St. John ii. 3) his mother cried. His frustrated Apostles hollered after him, Nobody is content to
act in secret, if he wishes to make himself known at large; if Thou must act thus, show thyself before the world. (St. John vii. 3-5) And later, in today’s Gospel, the bystanders, who knew no silence and could not stand still, passed by [and] reviled him, wagging their heads. (St. Matthew xxvii. 39) Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. (Ibid, 41,42) Pilate, uncomfortably bothered and exasperated at his silence because he found no fault in the man, desperately asked him, Hearest
thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. (Ibid, 13, 14) Neither friend, foe, nor the foreign judge knew what to do with this man who would not resent and so would not defend, would not react and so did not provoke. Instead, the eternal Word of God in him remained still and silent, and so suffered arrogance, ignorance, confusion, and sin to proclaim their final judgment on him.
To such a sorry state of affairs the Word of God in Jesus has no response. Sin must run its course. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. (St. John xii. 32) The truth that Jesus carries, embodies, and will share with all men never changes. God is love, and he that abideth in love, abideth in God, and God in him. (1 St.
John iv. 16) Jesus is love, God’s love made flesh. Who he is, is what he receives freely from the Father. God’s love defines his desired nature. That nature is compassion, pity, love, forgiveness, and hope. God’s nature revealed in Jesus Christ is the uninterrupted, ever-living, ever-giving, incessant passion for his people’s return to and reconciliation with himself. Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall
find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (St. Matthew xi. 28-30) The truth never changes; Jesus will now reveal what that truth demands of him. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man seweth, that shall he also reap. (Gal. vi. 7)
So today in silence and stillness we behold the man. (St. John xix. 5) There is darkness, confusion, obscurity, and chaos. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen. i. 1,2) Sin envelops itself with disorder, derangement, and disarray. The Word of God is hidden and unheard. Its meaning and purpose seem lost. Out of this condition emerge anger, hostility, resentment, bitterness, and
revenge. Man does not easily admit the effects of his own free-choosing and willing. Yet still the Son of man promises to come to us with power and great glory. But at first only quietly, silently, in the stillness of his
undeserved, unmerited, wholly unearned death. Jesus endures man’s rejection of him. Jesus loves him still. He suffers the unspeakable torture of the long, hard death reserved for the enemies of Caesar. Jesus loves him still. He not only takes on sin, but he takes it into himself – for the source and origin of his suffering is sin; and sin wholly misunderstands who and what he must be. He not only endures sin’s desire for his death, but he forgives it all. He can do no other. Why? He is the forgiveness of sins, just as he is the resurrection and the life. He is broken bread and poured out wine. He is broken body and poured out blood. No man cometh to the Father, save through me. (John xiv. 6) He is with the Father because he has died perfectly and completely to himself, the world, and the devil. That death is his; he has chosen it. But he cannot help but offer it to us also. He shares his suffering and death with us because without it, we cannot be changed. He dies for us, and even at our hands,
because, always, he desires to make us new. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Gen 1,3,4) In stillness and silence, then, let us follow Jesus to the Cross, whose light reaches out to us even in his death. In stillness and silence the light emerging from his heart will begin to separate us from our darkness. When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (St. Luke xxi. 28) And in the stillness and silence out of his death the light of new life will begin to touch and heal us. Through his death
we shall begin to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons