NBC: The Loudest Silence

November 24, 2023 | Jim Angehr

Yes, the short span of silence before God says, “Let there be light,” in the creation story is stunning. Still, there’s another caesura in the scriptures that constitutes an immeasurably louder moment of quiet. As hushed as a grave, even.

The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the most clamorous and violent stories in the history of the world. For all of its tumult, however, especially in Luke’s gospel account do the traumatic events of the day end with the sounding of silence:
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. (23:50-56)

I’ve often pondered this mournful endpoint.

Luke concludes his crucifixion account not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but with nothing. Witnesses to the cross go home. Exeunt. The curtain falls, while the reader, along with the women readying funeral materials, anticipates only a coda of Jesus’ final burial.

Most of the world knows, however, that this isn’t how the story will finish. Just as Jesus in the gospel of John calls back his friend from the grave with a bone-stirring, “Lazurus, come out,” Luke 24 similarly summons forth the Christ from death to life. Although darkness had covered the face of the earth while Jesus suffered and died, the Son has now risen.

The resurrection of Jesus in Luke 24 renders the silence at the close of the previous chapter all the more special. It’s both the saddest silence in the history of humankind––because cross and death––but also the most hopeful––because resurrection and life.

Soon at Liberti Collingswood we’ll sing among other Christmas carols “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” my favorite line of which is, “The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in Thee tonight.” What an image, what an idea. Compress and combine all the disparate emotional states of man throughout the ages, in all of our beauty and ugliness, our aspirations and evils, and in Bethlehem we will meet the Christ child, who will carry our noble and broken lives through death itself, into new life.

How much more is every human hope, every fear, every state held in the silence between Luke 23 and Luke 24?

Christian, know that this silence, this cross, this resurrection is for you, and remember that it is only so by grace. Mere hours before the conclusion of the first good Friday, we encounter another quiet, and this one only sad. On the cross and in deepest agony, our Lord cries out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” but he receives no reply. The cosmos has never heard a more lonesome silence. This vacuum of noiselessness, too, is for us.



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