The Long Silence

Homily at St Philip Evans for Palm Sunday, Year A.Jesus on the cross against an orange and yellow sky

What we have just heard is St Matthew’s account of the most important day which ever took place in human history. What I would like to share with you now are not my own words, but those of an anonymous author imaginging the scene at end of time:

Billions of people were seated on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame – but with belligerence.

“Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?”, snapped a young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!”

In another group a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched, for no crime but being black!”

In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: “Why should I suffer?” she murmured. “It wasn’t my fault.”

Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.

How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that human beings had been forced to endure in this world? “After all, God leads a pretty sheltered life,” they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen as the person who had suffered the most. A Jew, a black man, a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case.

It was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!

But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help Himself:

Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted, so that none would know who is really His father. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind. Let Him try to describe what no-one has ever seen, tasted, heard, or smelled – let Him try to communicate God in human language.

Let him be betrayed by his dearest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let Him die the most humiliating death – with common thieves. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced a portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.

For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.

The Long Silence exists in at least two versions on the web, of which this is an amalgam. One text is on an archived version of ldolphin; another version is quoted from James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 302. Image from Christians Unite ClipArt.