The silence is not empty

Gordon Hempton believes you can count on one hand the places where you can sit for twenty minutes without hearing a generator, a plane, or some other mechanized sound. As an audio ecologist, Hempton has traveled the world for more than twenty-five years searching for silence, measuring the decibels in hundreds of places, and recording the sharp decline of the sounds of nature. “I don’t want the absence of sound,” he tells one interviewer of his search. “I want the absence of noise,……. for listening is worship!”

For the Christian church, Holy Week begins a time of silence, a week of sitting in the dark with the crushing events from the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to the march of Christ to the grave. Holy Week moves the world through the shouts of Palm Sunday to the empty space of Holy Saturday. Though the Christian story clearly and loudly ends on the note of triumph and resurrection, there is a great silence in between, a great darkness we believe is necessary to sit with.

We are generally uncomfortable with silence, uncomforted by waiting. We don’t understand a messiah who stands at the crossroads of an identity as a deliverer, a political hero who could fight with force for our salvation and that of a servant, a messiah who chooses intentional suffering, who chooses to walk us through darkness on the way to redemption. If Holy Week is filled with events that silence us in disbelief, Holy Saturday levels us with the silence and emptiness that is the end of God.

Yet Holy Week attempts to prepare the world precisely for this silence. For certainly, here, after the end of God on Easter Saturday, we find not only the absence of sound, the absence of noise, but the end of the world—confirming our despair and doubt, the fear that history is meaningless, that evil is in control, and our future perilous. Such silence is one in which we can only manage a redirected cry for “Hosanna,” a reiterating of the lighthearted cheers of Palm Sunday, a desperate prayer for a Messiah to save us now, to deliver us from evil and emptiness.

 Truly, the intimacy of God runs deeper than silence.

This is the story Holy Week sets before the world this week. There is much to listen for in between the crucifying and the raising. There is always much silence and darkness to sit with, but it is never fully empty.

*another wonderful image from James Bellorini