Silence is a sometimes-overlooked but important part of worship. Here are three significant silences occurring each Holy Week, and I invite you to be part of them all, taking strength and insight from each:
The first is the silence after the Maundy Thursday liturgy. Because there is no dismissal, this liturgy doesn’t “end” so much as go into recess. After the altar is stripped and the lights lowered, we leave quietly. Our hushed departure from the church building shows how much these days change our “normal” pattern of life & worship--with its organ postlude and family-at-home time during Coffee Hour. We honor both God and neighbor through reverent silence as we depart for home or to the Altar of Repose during the All-Night Prayer Watch.
The second silence is at the start of the Good Friday liturgy. This is the one time in the year when worship begins with a protracted silence. Perhaps the greatest form of prayer is silent communion in wonder and adoration, and on this day we make a sacrifice of the usual opening to the liturgy by omitting all singing, movement, and sound to engage in this form of prayer. This may be the most solemn moment in the entire Liturgical Year, yet it happens without a word. Perhaps some of the most important sharing of the Gospel, or most significant witnessing to Christ we ever offer will occur in just such silence.
The third silence comes at the Easter Vigil, following the baptismal liturgy. When all have been baptized, anointed, and welcomed into Christ’s Body, it is our custom to kneel in silence before the lighting of the altar candles and the Proclamation of the Resurrection. This third silence is so very different from the two previous; it is pregnant with energy, with expectation for the joy about to unfold—a joy repeated each year but somehow like the First Easter each time. This silence peers into the tomb with the Holy Women and seeks, yearns for Christ’s rising. The final moments of the era of death are about to be overcome by the Light of Christ and the Kingdom of Life. It is my favorite silence each year.
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It seems a bit odd to be so enthusiastic about silence, but I believe it expresses one of the real gifts we bear as Anglican Christians: the gift of mystery and transformative encounter with God in worship. This encounter leads to a fundamentally different orientation to life; one of a deep peace and assurance, a hope stronger than all the fleeting doubts and anxious turmoil of this or any age. What we experience in worship makes us more just, more merciful, more compassionate and persevering in all our life, because our worship is our life, not separated from it. The stillness and silence of our communion with God is an undying prayer through all our choices, trials, and encounters.
I want to encourage each of you to join me—with any friends you feel called to invite—to participate not only in the silences but the many other parts of Holy Week—the fountain of our faith and the seal of our hope. Together, we will journey from Palm Sunday's raucous parade to the moment when we sing the great Easter hymn of victory "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death..." and taste anew the joy God has prepared for us from the foundation of the world.