The LORD is in His holy Temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him (Habakkuk 2:20).
As American Lutherans, we cringe any time there is silence in worship. In our fast-paced, high-tech world, we don't know what to do with reverent silence except when tragedy strikes. But what about the tragedy that we commemorate every week in our worship?
Yes, every Sunday is a celebration of Easter in miniature. But when we contemplate the great miracle of Easter, we must remember WHY Easter happened. Easter celebrates Jesus' resurrection from the dead. But why did Jesus die? Jesus died because we are sinners. "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Romans 7:18). As we come into His holy house to worship Him, how should we think about this?
Through the prophet Habakkuk, we have the command to be silent before God as He enters His Temple. The Prayers for Worship inside the front cover of our hymnal bring this calm silence to mind.
- O Lord, my Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter, as I come to worship You in spirit and in truth, I humbly pray that You would open my heart to the preaching of Your Word so that I may repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ as my only Savior, and grow in grace and holiness. Hear me for the sake of His name. Amen.
The command for silence carries over into the New Testament: "Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12:28). Acceptable worship requires reverence and awe. So we continue to pray for those in our weekly Prayers of the Church. We seek for God to give us that reverence to be silent before Him as we are before Him in His holy Temple.
There are two times in the Divine Service where we observe silence: before Confession and while the altar is set up for Communion. Before we confess our sins and receive Absolution, we take time in silent prayer but also self-examination as we are commanded by the Lord:
- "Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD" (Lamentations 3:40).
- "Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28).
This silent examination leads us to look at our lives without distractions. It brings us to heartily and sincerely repent of our sins. He hear God's words through the Psalm: "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (46:10). We exalt His holiness by understanding our depravity.
Through this silent examination, we believe that without God's grace we are unable to stand before Him. The prophet Zephaniah encourages us, "Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated His guests" (1:7). Through Jesus' sacrifice we are strengthened to be able to stand in God's holy presence. Through Jesus' sacrifice He has consecrated each baptized believer. Set each of us apart to worship Him and to fulfill His will in our lives. But how can we fulfill that purpose if we do not take the time to be silent before Him, to allow Him to "quiet you by His love" (Zephaniah 3:17)?
As with preparing for Confession and Absolution, we have silence while the altar is being prepared. As the altar is prepared for us to receive the foretaste of the coming marriage feast of the Lamb, we silently contemplate what has been given to us in the sermon and what we will receive as we bow before the Lord Jesus Christ and receive His body and blood. As the bread and wine are prepared, we have the opportunity once again to silently pray one of the prayers in the front cover of the hymnal:
- Dear Savior, at Your gracious invitation I come to Your table to eat and drink Your holy body and blood. Let me find favor in Your eyes to receive this holy Sacrament in faith for the salvation of my soul and to the glory of YOur holy name; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
"For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation" (Psalm 62:1). This salvation comes to us in the body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins on the cross of Calvary. The body and blood of the Lamb of God who "was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). Our silence before the reception of His holy and precious gifts is a reminder of His silence with which He suffered both in the trials and His first six hours on the cross.
While services for Good Friday and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil) are designed specifically around reverent silence, the weekly worship of the Divine Service grants us this opportunity as well. I encourage each member of Redeemer and all who read this to consider this as you come into the Lord's presence to worship Him. As we glorify the Son of God who died and rose so that we might have eternal life. Amen.