By Clint Wilson
It is Good Friday, the day in which the silence of the Word of God is stronger than the noise of men. On another Friday in 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and began to fire his gun at staff and students. Most of us remember this. How could we forget? After killing 15 students and two teachers, Lanza entered the classroom of Victoria Soto, who was 27 at the time. At first Victoria told Lanza that her students were in the gym, in an attempt to redirect him. However, some students ran from their hiding spots, and Lanza began to shoot at them. Victoria was shot that day because she shielded her first-grade students; she gave her life for theirs.
When her funeral was held several days later, Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel showed up. He happened to know the Soto family through a friend, and halfway through the funeral he picked up his guitar and, without any introduction, sang Soto’s favorite song: “The Sound of Silence.” When Simon finished, there was no applause. There was no encore. There was only the hushed and reverent sound most appropriate to honor the death of this person; there was only the sound of silence. What Word could be spoken into this void caused by death?
The prophet Isaiah speaks of the sound of silence: “[L]ike a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). Yet it is this silent Lamb who shuts the mouths of kings, “for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.” So similar are the words of Simon & Garfunkel, one could be tempted to think they consulted Isaiah:
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you;
Take my arms that I might reach you.”
These words of Simon & Garfunkel could be the words of Jesus. His arms are taken, only to be spread upon the hard wood of the cross, and his words “like silent raindrops fell,” and yet “the people bow down and pray, to the neon God they made,” or whatever their first-century equivalent might have been.
Love demands our silence, our awe, our reverence, that his Word might fall upon our ears, and so that he who is also the chalice might have his lifeblood poured out into our hearts; that he who is the surgeon might apply the elixir of life. He is the only Word that can be spoken into the void of death when all other words fail; there is no other substitute.
His cross also is the sword that pierces the heart of death. This is, at least, what one sixth-century hymn writer wrote about the words uttered by Death, upon hearing the silence of the Word on the Cross:
Whom Hades saw and said to those below,
“My ministers and powers,
Who has fixed a nail in my heart?
A wooden lance has suddenly pierced me, and I am being torn apart.”
(Romanos the Melodist, “The Victory of the Cross”)
The Word breaks the silence eventually — in the Gospel, in speaking to Pilate, to the thief, the disciple, and to his mother. Another ancient hymn by Romanos has Jesus saying to his mother, and perhaps to all mothers who have lost children:
Be strong for a little while, Mother, and you will see how,
Just like a surgeon, I strip and rush to where my patients lie.
I shall treat their wounds:
I shall cut away solid tumors with the soldier’s spear.
I shall use gall and vinegar to staunch the incision;
Nails, a lancet to probe the tumor; a seamless robe to wrap it.
The cross itself I shall use as a splint.
By this you will understand and sing,
By suffering himself, he has destroyed suffering.
(Romanos the Melodist, “Mary at the Cross”)
The Word breaks the silence, ultimately, with his own. The silence of the Word is not the silence of the abandoned victim only; it is the silence of the shepherd, and the lover, and the doctor working to cure the sick.
And so today Christians around the world will leave their parishes in silence and in awe of the Word whose victory of love over sin inspires Easter song. This is not a mere absence of words, or the silence of shock, hopelessness, or guilt. Rather, it is silence that comes from listening to the tragic, beautiful, and glorious song of love spoken in and through the presence of the Word, Jesus, the word exchanged between Lover and his Beloved. It is silence in the wake of the death of the Loving Word, the Word that names our mourning, our loss and our role in the violent noise of the world. For the cost of sin and the cost of love is too high to overlook such noise, such sin. Words are not able to capture the mystery of the Word at Calvary. Rather, silenced hearts are the proper altar that receives the outpouring Word, only later to respond in Spirit-empowered Easter song. Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes:
[T]he Son’s cross is the revelation of the Father’s love (Romans 8:32; John 3:16), and the bloody outpouring of that love comes to its inner fulfillment in the shedding abroad of their common Spirit into the hearts of men (Romans 5:5). (Mysterium Paschale, p. 140)
Through his Spirit the Word watered the hearts of those first disciples, and raised Lazarus, and inspired apostles and martyrs. The Word now echoes throughout eternity — in the hearts of men and women who know the love of God poured out afresh. The Word echoes in us, whose thirsty hearts are slaked with the elixir of the Chalice of the Lamb. He is drained into the depths of death so that we might drink from the depths of life.
Or in the words of George Herbert:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine. (“The Agonie”)
It is Good Friday, the day in which the silence of God is stronger than the noise of men.