The Good Friday Silent Treatment

The events of Good Friday are violent, to put it mildly. The crucifixion of Jesus and all the events leading up to it are disturbingly violent, ugly, noisy, and bloody. John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion (traditionally read at services) is filled with images of the screaming crowds, the betrayal of friends, the tearing of garments, and a controversial, heated trial. The whole day encompasses one disturbing event after another with enough violence to fill an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.

Silence amid violence
I always find it so interesting that people often commemorate the events of this disturbing, chaotic, violent day with silence. Houses of worship are never so quiet as they are on Good Friday. Silence is in the air, it seems. Many services begin with complete and utter quiet, and a disturbing hush falls over all who have come to contemplate the crucifixion.

And Good Friday traditions involving silence abound. I had a weird (and very extroverted) friend who used to refrain from talking between the hours of noon and 3 pm, which was supposedly around the time of day that Jesus died. Growing up I was not allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio on Good Friday, which deeply embittered my young heart (“Mom you CAN’T take away my clock radio!”) and caused me to hate Good Friday for a good number of years. I couldn’t stand the silence. In my mind, silence meant that I had to be sad.

Silent discomfort
Whether silence makes us sad or not, there is definitely something about silence that is uncomfortable, as anyone who has been to an awkward dinner party can attest. Mealtime silence causes us to fidget with our forks and dramatically swig our ice water as we try to think of something to say, anything . To be silent, in some situations, is to be socially inept.

In other situations, silence brings forth issues and problems we would rather not confront. Discomfort results when silence allows all kinds of fears and worries to seep into our souls. One of my favorite authors wrote that “silence is full of things we need to learn about ourselves,” which may be true, but it doesn’t mean that we have to like it. When we are silent our insecurities and worries bubble to the surface of our consciousness, forcing us to confront them without distraction.

Not your usual T.G.I.F.
Good Friday silence is hardly the stuff of the Christmastime images conjured up by “Silent Night.” No cute little cattle lowing here. No heavenly peace or sleeping baby in the manger. Good Friday silence invites us to contemplate death and suffering, hardly the stuff of our usual TGIF thoughts. But if silence is, indeed, full of the things we need to learn about ourselves, perhaps we can contemplate suffering and death, both as it pertains to Jesus’ life and to our own.

We never quite know what to do in the face of silence. But it seems, somehow, on this solemn day, full of graphic violence and unanswered questions, the most adequate response we can offer after all.

Scripture readings for Good Friday.