The Word in Silence
March 28, 2021
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 in that way and manner, we shall be better able to comprehend the love of God unfolding before us in the suffering and death of His own Son. We will, no doubt, find that it assaults, confounds, and troubles our human reason, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from its habitual assumptions and expectations. But if we sustain the stillness, and with a silent mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, a blanket of divine reassurance and conviction might begin to enkindle the fire of our souls this week, enveloping them with what the Word made Flesh has always intended and now must radically reveal to us as the only way to Redemption and the only way to Salvation.
In the lections for today, we already hurried into a dramatic interruption to the mission and ministry of the Son of God, as He is brought swiftly to trial, arrest, and condemnation. The air is tense with a sudden judgment and determination to bring down the Son of God. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, will attempt, in vain, to bring reason and common sense to bear against the chaos and confusion that has been stirred up around Jesus, 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 against this Jesus of Nazareth.
He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian, that has by now, on numerous occasions, successfully quenched heightened emotions and violent passions in the then civilized world. Earthly calm and peace comprise Pontius Pilate’s vocation. Mostly he will try to treat this Jesus of Nazareth as the trigger for what ought to remain a small-town local Jewish religious controversy, from which he longs to wash his hands. But he cannot, since, as it turns out, this Jesus’ very existence 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. The issue is complicated by the fact that there is another kind of stillness, silence, and peace emerging from this Jesus. Jesus’ response to his own people is wholly unsettling to Pilate so that he marvels greatly. (Ibid, 14) For Pilate knows that out of envy the Jews have delivered Jesus up. Yet, their uncontrollable envy threatens the Pax Romana. Pilate knows that the city’s peace must be maintained. Caesar’s rule cannot be threatened in any way or by anyone. Pilate’s wife will tell him to have nothing to do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19) and we sense that Pilate, perhaps with not a little superstition that characterized late Antique Stoicism, is troubled by his wife’s spiritual sensibility. But the crowd will demand that one Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate desires tranquility yet 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 will remain intact, or so Pilate thinks. The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, and on our children. (Ibid, 25)
Pilate will believe, not without reservation, 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. 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, is rejected on a number of different levels and for a variety of reasons. Men always find reasons to explain why they prefer to be lost sheep rather than to be found and confronted by the demands of God’s compassion and care.
But for a few others, the silence and stillness of the dying Son of God will begin to move on 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 the necessity of His Sacrificial Mission. 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 Jesus’ dying heart. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ has always been dying to Himself and coming alive to the Father in the world that He made and longs to redeem. He did not cease 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 Salvation is perfected. Here, He does not desperately pry into the secrets of His Father’s will and plan. He is content to trust and obey. Rather, He prefers to die so that the Father’s will might be realized in Him once and for all. He will become the new Man, the Second Adam, who forever 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 conquer sin, death, and Satan through His loving death.
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 fever of life is over to be still and silent in order to be confronted by Christ’s silent and still adhesion to the Father’s Word in suffering and death.
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. In 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 suffering and dying flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to Him. 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 shared by this Man from His Cross. Ultimately and perfectly He still loves and gives so that all men might live.
Today we hear Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Without missing a beat, next we hear Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. We must try to pry silence and stillness in the face of this fickle foolishness. 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 everyone 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 made flesh up to His Cross, and silently 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. And the light shone is darkness/and against the Word the unstilled world still whirled. Let us hear Christ the Word in silence and stillness from the Cross of Calvary.
Rev. William J. Martin is rector of St. Michael and All Angels, Anglican Province of America, G4, in Arden, NC.
He is Dean of Logos School of Theological Studies. A Boston native, he holds degrees from Tufts and Oxford. He serves on the Board of Directors of the 1928 Prayer Book Alliance.