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God’s advent is accompanied by great noise. He walks in Eden “in the Spirit of the day,” and descends to Sinai with a trumpet blast. To Ezekiel, his voice is the clamor of many waters. When he appears in Revelation, Jesus roars like a lion. As the Psalm puts it, “The voice of Yahweh is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders. The voice of Yahweh is powerful, the voice of Yahweh is majestic. The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars; Yahweh breaks the cedars of Lebanon. . . . The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness . . . the voice of Yahweh makes the deer to calve and strips the forests bare.” God is boundless Life, and for that reason he is boundless Sound, the infinite polyphony of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Creation too begins in sound. Out of the darkness, the God who is eternal Word breathes out a “Let there be,” and there is a heavens and earth. Every last thing that exists is a residue of the Creator’s joyous creative shout. All creation echoes the Creator’s voice. Waves crash, streams burble, winds whistle and whisper and growl, lightning sizzles, planets harmonize in the music of the spheres. At the climax of creation, God forms a creature in his image and likeness, who not only can bellow and screech and bark and mew and sing, but can, like his Creator, shape breath into speech.

Then: Death invades this world of resounding praise. By one man’s sin, death enters the world, and silence through death, and so silence spreads to all men. The “wicked are silenced in darkness” (1 Sam. 2:9). Silence is the gravestone marking a once-great city, judged for its sin—no voice of joy or voice of gladness, no voice of the millstone, no voice of the bridegroom, no voice of the bride. 

Silence swallows up the righteous as much as the wicked. “Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon you,” David cries. “Let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol”—let them be silent, not me, David says, for the dead do not praise, nor do any who go down into the silence (Ps. 115:17). If it has any sounds at all, Sheol echoes with howls and gibbers and shrieks, never praise. “Will your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, your faithfulness in destruction? Will your wonders be made known in the darkness, and your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Ps. 88:11–12).

Then again: Into a world under the dominion of silence and death comes the loud and living God, but what he does when he comes leaves the world in silent awe. The one who says “I am the resurrection and the life” dies and is laid in a grave. The Savior who loosens the tongues of the speechless is dumb like a sheep before shearers. The God who is eternal Voice because he is eternal Life lies for three days quiet in the tomb. The eternal Word falls silent. God the Son makes the words of Psalm 88 his own: “I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, and who are cut off from your hand.”

God dwells in unapproachable light, but that’s no help to me if I’m groping in the dark, far from the light. God is the Word; every Christian believes that. But I can hardly hear his voice if I’m already tipping halfway into the silence. If he is going to be my Lord, he has to be Lord of light and dark, of life and death. If he’s going to rescue me, he’s got to come to me in the silence. 

This is the purpose of incarnation: The Son took flesh to become Lord of death, so as to be Jesus, the Dark Lord. The Son enters the grave to become its master, to seize the keys of death and Hades. It’s not enough for him to have first place in creation. He must be the firstborn of the dead, so that in all things he might be preeminent. The Word dies to reign as Lord also of the silence.

“Shall your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Shall your wonders be known in the dark? And your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” It’s the question of Holy Saturday, and Saturday’s silence prepares for the day after the Sabbath, which shouts a resounding “Yes!” Because he goes to Sheol as the enfleshed Voice of the Father, Jesus wrings light from the darkness and awakens praise even in the tomb. His wonders are proclaimed in the dark, among the shades. His righteous acts are remembered in the land of forgetfulness. And the dead rise up to praise him. 

The voice of Yahweh thunders, thunders now in the grave, and Death itself will join everything in the temple of the world shouting “Glory! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”

Peter J. Leithart is president of Theopolis Institute.

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Image by Gustave Doré licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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