My Dear Friends,
On behalf of my wife, children and myself, I am writing to you to wish you all the happiest of Easters, one of our most important Christian holidays, and to share with you why this holiday is so important to me as your priest and as your friend.
Lent and Easter are seasons very unlike Christmas. Much of Christmas is constructed for us with traditional man-made sounds; the bells of Christmas ring out the joyous birth of our Savior, majestic Christmas carols tell the story of Bethlehem, and our streets are filled with the harried sounds of getting and giving presents. Lent and Easter, on the other hand, is a time observed while sacrificing and fasting and in silence. It is in many ways, a time constructed for introspection through the exercise of silence. There are no angels announcing to the world the Resurrection. There is no Jesus jumping and shouting in triumph over his torturers. Even in the midst of his trial and crucifixion Jesus choose silence while meeting his fate. “As a lamb who before his shearers is mute”.
As a child, one of my early hobbies was to collect adages emanating from around the world. I would, and sometimes still, find it extremely exciting to discover wisdom-truths outside of my own cultural genre and experiences. These nuggets of truths would often seem to be in conflict with one another. As I wrote them in my dog-eared book, I studied and compared the conflicts and contrasts of each subject. The subject of silence was a regular subject in my discoveries and has been a subject that always seemed to fascinate humanity. Yet, silence adages often would be held in a strange tension.
· “Silence is a great peacemaker.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
· “To stand in silence when they should be protesting, makes cowards out of men.” Abraham Lincoln
· “Why are men so noisy during the liturgies while Christ’s prayer was silent? The words of the Son of God come from the heart, and the heart is silent. Why do we not know how to speak with a silent heart? The heart of Jesus does not speak. It radiates with love because its language comes from the divine depths.” Cardinal Robert Sarah
· “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” Mark Twain
· “The divine is beyond words.” Buddha
· “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
· “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Silence is a conundrum. It can be filled with shame or triumph, disdain or love, reverence or contempt. As Christians, how should we understand and use silence to pray, reflect, confirm our faith and chastise our opponents? Should we speak, shout, declare, broadcast the injustices heaped upon so many people for so many millennia? Should we put our hands over our mouths and stand quietly by and prolong humanities’ sufferings, and forget all but our own problems? This conundrum is filled with contradiction. How then are we to proclaim the victory of God over the world when all we have been gifted with is silence? How do we proclaim peace and hope to a world that is drowning itself in noise and shouting? How do we enter a market place where there is so much shouting from warring sides who are both cleaving to their understanding of truth and righteousness? Even those who seek a middle ground do so based upon a desire to maintain unjust structures. This is no different than the struggle which occurred on Calvary Hill. There, we witnessed the convergence of the conservatives bent on ‘protecting’ God from interlopers, far left liberals seeking an overthrow of the bourgeois and European interlopers and those standing on the middle ground crying out for compromise.
Through this ancient din, I can hear an Iraqi proverb, “The poor are the silent of the land.” What are our perceptions of silence when we think of the over 300-year enslavement of good men and women. The silence to the cries of the African slave on American plantations as white privilege reaped the benefits of an evil system can be considered God’s indifference. Those who were thirsting for God’s intervention were silenced by violence of evil. Those who knew and experienced the power of God through Jesus were silenced by fear and intimidation. Jesus himself retained silence even though God seemed to be silent to him and to the world.
A silence so eerie that is frightening. Silence may give consent or possibly be the proof that no one is listening- African Proverb. Silence can be a representation of atrophy, resignation or even death or silence can be weaponized to proclaim defiance, renewal, conversion or transformation. Many have chosen silence in the face of some of the worst atrocities against humanity. Many choose silence in order to sustain their grasped on privilege. Many victims choose silence in a response to inner pain and brokenness. Silence can be a sign of solidarity and strength shown in the two Inuit (Eskimos) traversing from far desolate Alaskan places just to participate a meal shared silence. In Compassion, Henry Nouwen reminds us that “…we have forgotten that it is often in “useless,” unpretentious, humble presence to each other that we feel consolation and comfort. Simply being with someone is difficult because it asks of us that we share in the other’s vulnerability, enter with him or her into the experience of weakness and powerlessness, become part of uncertainty, and give up control and self-determination. And still, whenever this happens, new strength and new hope is being born.” (Nouwen, 12) Silence then becomes an expression of a spiritual experience.
Easter, my friends, is an adult celebration as the narrative is punctuated by silence. For it is in the silence that God sometimes does his most important work. (1Kings 19:12)
The miracle of Easter is not God breaking his silence, but that those, who are faithful, discover God in His silence. James Cone writes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree “It is the cross that points in the direction of hope, the confidence that there is a dimension to life beyond the reach of the oppressor…Though the pain of Jesus’ cross was real, there was also joy and beauty in the cross. This is the great theological paradox that makes the cross impossible to embrace unless one is standing in solidarity with those who are powerless [those forced into silence]. God’s loving solidarity can transform ugliness – whether Jesus on the cross or a lynched black victim – into beauty, into God’s liberating presence” (Cone, 162).
In the silence, at the empty tomb, there is fear, but there is also astonishment and the possibility for hope. There is opportunity for God to create something new in each of us. But only if we allow the Holy Spirit and God’s love to work through us; perhaps in silence. There is hope and promise for new possibilities in our love for each other and responses to the teachings of Jesus and the silent whispers of the Holy Spirit.
They who are on the brink of losing their faith are invited to look at the wonders of God in His silent creative power and be reminded of His sovereignty. Those who seek a proclamation do so not in shouts of acclamation but in whispered confessions of faith. Those who carry his message do so through acts of love and charity. To use the symbolism of bread: The silence is in the yeast, secret and hidden in the flour, waiting for the loving action of our hands to turn it into a loaf of bread. Easter in 2019 can use the modern adage “Look at my works, can you hear me now?
For Lent Our Sunday School embarked on plumbing some of the depths of the Lord’s Prayer and also took on the challenge to break the silence using Handel’s messiah chorus. Come join us in our Easter celebrations as the children learn to echo the power of God’s silence using a Caribbean version of The Lord’s prayer and Handel’s Messiah chorus.
The kingdom of this World
Has become, the kingdom of our Lord
And of his Christ
And He shall reign forever
Jesus shall reign forever
And ever and ever!
The Moore Family