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04.08.12 A Deafening Silence, Mark 16:1-8 Sermon Summary

by on April 9, 2012

In the ending of the earliest account of Easter Jesus doesn’t appear and the witnesses flee in silence. What’s the big secret?

Summary points

  • Examples of Mark’s secret-keeping
  • “Whistling in the dark” and why we do it
  • Two kinds of deafening silence
  • Ways the secret applies to our lives
  • Questions for discussion or reflection

All through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ identity has been kept secret. When Peter gets it right for a fleeting moment, Jesus requires him not to tell anyone. After Jesus heals people, he instructs them to keep quiet about it. Demons are prohibited from broadcasting his identity.  Jesus even uses parables in order to conceal his identity.

You would think that by the end of the Gospel, Mark would let the secret out. But instead the women who come to anoint the body of Jesus are told he has risen, they don’t see him, and they run way saying nothing to anyone.

Prior to the announcement of the resurrection, Mark tells us the women conversed about who would roll away the stone. They KNEW Jesus was dead and buried; that’s why they were on their way with spices. Perhaps what caused the silence was that their comfort with the facts as they knew them was completely disrupted.

Or perhaps they were confused, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus later that night. They thought they knew what was going on, but then they heard about the resurrection. They, too, were talking amongst themselves out of their confusion when Jesus in disguise joins the conversation. They were, in the provocative words of Frederick Buechner’s description of faith, “whistling in the dark . . . to hold the shadows at bay.”

Whatever the reason for the conversation among the women that morning, silence was imposed upon them once they reached the tomb. The news they heard, that Jesus was alive and would soon reveal himself in Galilee, was too good, too hopeful, too alien to accept right away. It silenced them.

And true knowers of the resurrection message respond just as these women did: in trembling, bewilderment, terror, and amazement. If we don’t respond this way, it’s because we have become too casual with our understanding of the resurrection. A casual response to this good news, a response anything less than stunned silence, just proves we haven’t understood the message.

In the presence of such casual faith, God remains faithful and continually lead us back to the Cross. For an adequate appreciation of the resurrection resulting in silence only follows an adequate appreciation of the Cross. For at the Cross, God is silent.

We find ourselves at the Cross when our prayers aren’t answered. We’re at the Cross when the healing we want doesn’t come. When all that we’ve hoped for doesn’t materialize, we’ve arrived at the Cross. When our whistling has failed to keep the shadows at bay, but instead the shadows inhabit our very being, we are at the Cross.

And God leads us to the Cross because there is a crossroad at the Cross, and we must decide how we will respond. Will we turn back, ignore the realities of adult faith and retreat into childhood concepts of God learned in elementary Sunday school? Or will we turn away, find a brand of Christianity or another religion that doesn’t have the Cross?

Or will we do as Jesus commands us to do, to take up our cross and to follow him? Jesus is intimately familiar with the Cross and the silence that accompanies it. He has arrived at this crossroad before. He was betrayed in silence by a kiss. He faced his accusers abandoned by his friends, alone, and in silence. He was persecuted by his religion, executed for his politics, forsaken by God—all in silence—and was himself silenced by death.

And it was a deafening silence—God’s silence at the Cross.

But God did not remain silent. Three days later, the good news of resurrection broke God’s silence. This unbelievable, life-transforming message imposed silence upon the women that morning, and upon those of us who truly understand the Cross.

But this is a different kind of deafening silence. This is a silence that absorbs all the other sounds in our lives: sounds of accusations, sounds of torment and mocking, sounds of failure, sounds of not measuring up, sounds of past sin, sounds of future anxiety. All our whistling attempts to maintain faith and courage are absorbed by the deafening silence of resurrection.

This is how Mark ends his gospel, with the deafening silence of resurrection. He began his gospel with the proclamation that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). But after that direct revelation, Jesus’ identity is kept secret, even to the end, in order to intrigue us and to entice us and to invite us to follow after Jesus and discover that we also are children of God.

How do we do this? How do we faithfully engage this silence in order to become God’s children? One way is to take up the cross of Christ. When we find ourselves at the crossroad, we don’t turn back or turn away but we follow Christ through God’s silence to the resurrection.

We faithfully engage the silence by breaking it with acts and words of grace, as we know the women eventually must have. And we can faithfully engage and break the silence by praying as Jesus prayed.

For the next six weeks we will look at the Lord’s Prayer. It is a summary of Jesus’ life, message and mission. We will look at the prayer through the resurrection appearances of Jesus in the other Gospels. And we will discover that as we pray as Jesus taught, and learn how he revealed himself to his disciples then, we will recognize how he reveals himself to us now. And not only to us, but through us, to a world full of whistlers.

Lord, the good news of your resurrection confounds our tidy and comfortable ways of explaining the world in which we live. It speaks a disruptive word into the conversation, one that stuns us into silence, a word that that quiets the storms of life. You invite us into this silence, and in this silence you invite us to follow Christ. Lead us in the way of Jesus Christ, a way demonstrated by his life, a way depicted by his prayer, and the way empowered in us by his resurrection. Reveal yourself to us we pray, in Christ’s name. Amen.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • In what ways do you “whistle in the dark”? Why do you do this, out of too comfortable knowledge of religious facts? Out of confusion? Out of fear? Will you allow the deafening silence of the resurrection to quiet these things?
  • What Cross and crossroads has God brought you to, in the past or at the present time? Are there any you can anticipate coming to in the future? Instead of turning back or away, will you turn to Christ and continue to follow in his path?
  • What voices have you been listening to, that have distracted you from what God wants to say to you, which is “Jesus Christ is my child, and so are you”? Are they voices from the past? Voices arriving early from the future? What would it mean if all these voices were absorbed by the deafening silence of the resurrection?
  • God’s presence can be easily confused with silence. The Bible compares God’s presence to light and air. Like these created elements, the bread and cup of Communion beckon silently to us to recognize God’s presence. In what other silent ways does God make himself present to you?
  • Sometimes we don’t know what to say when others are suffering or have questions. We find ourselves in yet another unwanted and uncomfortable silence. Here, too, if we will follow Christ and pray, we will hear God speaking to us, and as we are transformed into God’s children, God will guide us in what to say and give us the right time to say it.
  1. Kristen permalink

    I needed that. Love this concept: “This is a silence that absorbs all the other sounds in our lives.” Thank you, Dr. Tom.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 06.24.12 Baptism and Salvation, Acts 8:26-40 Sermon Summary « Thinking Faith

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