And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
There is a good deal of silence that is meant to surround us as a response to the Passion and Crucifixion of the Son of God during Holy Week. Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence and stillness. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it assaults and confounds our human reason, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual desire. But if we sustain the stillness, and with a silent mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, a reassuring blanket of divine quiet might begin to warm the soul this week, enveloping it with the Word that desires to be made flesh in us so that we might journey with Jesus from death to new life.
In the lections for today, we already begin to observe the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of commotion. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, will attempt to bring calm and stillness out of chaos and confusion, on what should be just another fine Friday afternoon in an ordinary outpost of Caesar’s Empire. He seems a reasonable enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has stirred up the people of Jerusalem. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian, that has successfully stilled and silenced the then civilized world. Earthly calm and peace comprise his vocation. Mostly he will try to treat this Jesus of Nazareth as the cause of a small-town Jewish family squabble from which he longs to wash his hands. But he cannot, for it threatens the peace of Caesar’s city. So he will aim at commanding silence and stillness in order to reestablish that kind of peace that all Romans cherished. In the service of Roman Law, he will rebuke the Jews and urge them to judge Christ themselves, or send Him to Herod. (St. Matthew xxvii. 14) Needless to say, none of this works. To complicate matters, another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this Christ. It will be so unsettling that Pilate marvels greatly. (Ibid, 14) For Pilate knows that out of envy the Jews have delivered Jesus up. Yet, their jealousy threatens the Pax Romana. The city’s peace must be maintained. Caesar’s rule cannot be questioned. Pilate’s wife will tell him to have nothing do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19) and in a sense he will try to do just that. But the crowd will demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified. Pilate desires stillness and silence and then finds himself drawn into the noisome conflict: Why, what evil hath he done?(Ibid, 23) Pilate will exclaim. The Jews are not interested in any alleged crime. They want blood. Let Him be crucified, they cry. So, in response to that determined envy that promises only to breed further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Pax Romana is asserted. The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, an on our children. (Ibid, 25)
Pilate will believe that he has rid the world of Jesus Christ for political expedience. The Jews hatred of Him will be quenched. Even the disappearance of His Apostles into hiding seems promising for the silence and stillness of the Roman Peace. The problem seems to have been solved quickly and satisfactorily. The greater silence and stillness in Christ’s heart that ensure His obedience to the Father have not, as yet, startled and triggered others into consciousness of what is transpiring. The still and silent core of His mission and meaning have not yet found fertile ground in men’s souls. And so the external chaos of this week will drive them into the world of sadness and confusion. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) God’s own Good Shepherd and Sacrificial Lamb, it would appear, are rejected on a number of different levels, and for a variety of reasons. Men always find reasons to explain why they persist in being lost sheep.
But for a few others, the silence and stillness of the dying Son of God will begin to move the ground of their souls. From the still and silent center of His obedience to the Father, this Jesus of Nazareth will begin to speak to those whose stillness and silence comprise the fertile ground that can receive His meaning. Christ the Word will be heard and heeded, slowly, even imperceptibly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. Even now as the world and its words assault and kill the human Jesus, the Word of God persists and endures in order to speak from the stillness and silence of His dying heart. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ, is always dying to Himself and coming alive to the Father for the world. He did not cease to do so, especially when He will be most tempted to do so in and through His earthly suffering and death. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers himself to God and man by laying down His life in death so that all might live.
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He 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. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ’s silence and stillness in suffering and death are the centrifugal points around which His mission of service is perfected. Here, He does not desperately pry into the secrets of His Father’s will and plan. He is content to humbly obey. Rather, He prefers to die so that the Father’s will might be realized in Him and for all. He will become the new Man, the Second Adam, who once again is happily free because in silence and stillness, He joyfully obeys and fulfils the Father’s desire. He knows that only in silence and stillness, only in death to Himself, can the Father’s plan and purpose emerge into new life.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel with Jesus up to His Cross. Some people are too busy to do so. But let us make an effort to travel up to Golgotha in this place and at set times. Let us come to this place when the busy world is hushed and the feverish day is over to be still and quiet in order to be confronted by Christ’s silent and still adhesion to the Father’s Word. All of us can go with Christ to his Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening, though we might be very confused and bewildered. This Word of God in Christ will be mostly silent. Pilate marveled, and so should we. This Word who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23), we will begin to see as the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to it. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now persists in revealing itself to others from that ample supply of forgiveness and hope still remaining to be shared by this Man from His Cross. Ultimately and perfectly He still loves and gives so that all men might live.
On this Palm Sunday we hear Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And yet it seems that no sooner has the jubilant song of praise and celebration been sung than the new malevolent cries for Christ’s execution rise and swell. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. We must try to pry silence and stillness out of this inconstant and fickle emotion. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53. 4-6)
Let us follow the Word, and quietly listen to the words of T. S. Eliot:
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness
and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word. (Ash Wednesday V)
In stillness and silence let us acknowledge that our lost words are lost and our spent words are spent. They are dead. Let us remember that that God’s Word alone brings life, meaning, and salvation. Let us hear Christ the Word in silence and stillness from the Cross of Calvary. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: