A few years ago we started holding Silent Sunday around the time the Christian Church world-wide observes Jesus’ Ascension. We’re told in the earliest historical account of the first followers of Jesus, the Book of Acts, in chapter 1, that after Jesus ascended to heaven, the very first act his followers decided to do was pray.
Our best calculations put about ten days between the Ascension and the day of Pentecost, and we read in Acts 1:14 that during that those ten days “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
Influenced by the first followers of Jesus, and by Quaker and Taize worship, both of which include periods of silence, of listening, we give an entire worship gathering over to near total silence.
After dismissing our preschool and elementary kids to their classes, the rest of us will follow on-screen prompts, guiding us through worship for the morning. We’ll have a couple contemplative, soft songs which we will sing audibly, quietly, but the bulk of our worship will be silent prayer, listening for the voice of God, especially through the Bible. We will include a handful of five minute periods of total silence.
Take a look at how the passage we have come to in our study through Luke is a great fit for Silent Sunday. In Luke 22:39-46, it is Thursday night of Passion Week. Jesus has just eaten his final meal with his disciples. What should have been a joyous celebration of the Jewish Passover, now had a palpable ominous tone. Jesus talked about giving up his body, his blood, about betrayal and denial, and how they should have swords ready. Was this the moment so many in the crowds, including the disciples, had been waiting for? The moment the Messiah would start a battle to kick the Romans out of Jerusalem?
Under the cover of night, Jesus leads his disciples out to the Mount of Olives, the same place he would lead them on Ascension Day. But rather than round up more weapons, rather than draw plans for a coup, in verse 40 Jesus urges his disciples to pray that they will not fall into temptation. What is he talking about?
Jesus wanders off about a stone’s throw away, praying alone. It is late. We don’t know how long the disciples prayed. Perhaps they debated amongst themselves what might be happening. Was Jesus getting spiritually ready for battle tomorrow? Did they try to guess which one of them was the betrayer Jesus talked about? And what of his words to Peter saying Peter would deny him? One disciple might have scolded Peter, and Peter might have reacted strongly, just as he did to Jesus, that he, Peter, would never deny Jesus. One by one, as the night wears on, as Jesus is still praying, the men’s eyes droop and they fall asleep. Is sleepiness the temptation Jesus was referring to? They all give in.
We’ll look at this amazing passage more intently during Silent Sunday, particularly as Luke tells us precisely what Jesus prayed for. This passage, then, is perfect for Silent Sunday. I’ll admit, it might seem weird, strange for a church to give an entire worship service to silent prayer and meditation! How many of us spend an hour in prayer on a regular basis??? Almost never. So what Jesus said to the disciples is what we need to hear to prepare ourselves for Silent Sunday.
We will wrestle in prayer. We will be tempted to feel frustrated by this long time in prayer. We will be tempted to let our minds wander. Our fast information society has trained us to have short attention spans. So will you join us this Sunday at Faith Church, to fight your inner desire to be frustrated and to fight your mind that wanders?
In so doing you’ll find that your fight against yourself just might enable you to hear the voice of God like never before.