It was our early marriage season “B.C” (before children) and we were young, wild and more or less “free”. Thanks to the USAF, we were enjoying a period of relative stability. For the first time in our recent history the pay was steady, we had a solid place to live and felt the freedom to enjoy and explore our surroundings. Life was good.
We lived in a small Illinois suburb just outside of St. Louis, no more than 40-minutes from a great zoo, a public museum, and a large city park with miles of trails for biking. Escaping as often as we could, time was spent taking in all the city had to offer.
This also included public performances from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. One of the lesser-known secrets of my soul is the love of good, classical music— Mozart in particular— and up until then, I had never seen a live orchestral performance. Having this kind of access was a treat for my senses and beauty-hungry soul.
To watch so many highly-skilled individual artists come together as a whole and fill a room with centuries-old music was a feast. More modern pieces were presented as well and it was the first-time experience of one in particular that I’ll never forget: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”.
To write this moment requires a loosening of my vocabulary— there’s simply no other fitting approach. Imagine: the sensation of being surrounded— nearly drowning in the sound of stringed instruments, spinning out and unraveling in an almost unbroken flow of sound. Swaying and swirling, ribbons of music unfurl, build and fill up every bit of available space within the possible range of hearing and come in so steady, without hastening or quickening the pace. You know you’re being taken someplace but you’re not quite sure where.
Note upon note is drawn between bow and string, as a pool of instruments measures out and pours upon the audience in a slow, steady stream…the sound now drawing us upward, drawing our ear and eye-gaze higher and higher still— narrowing, focusing….suspending over us as far to the peak of purity as it can go until you know— there’s nowhere left to go… not one. step. more.
As full as it had been only moments before, the room now echoes with spacious silence as the last few vaporous notes trail away and become memory.
And it lasts for quite a long time. The silence. Almost to the point you may wonder if the piece is over and yet the Conductor doesn’t move— his hands are still in the air. The instrumentalists remain stock still with bows suspended against their strings, frozen in that silence. Waiting.
It’s nerve-wracking, the ominous wait, the absence of sound and the fantastical fullness of the silence. The contrast is mesmerizing. Then…right about the time you’re certain you can take it no more— surely something must be wrong, the Conductor moves ever so slightly and the notes ease back into place falling in a much quieter decrescendo, working their way towards the finish line, backing away from the silence that was wholly necessary to the piece.
The silence that was planned all along. The silence that makes the sound more beautiful.
This is my soul on this and most every Good Friday.
As the events of Holy week have once again unfolded before me, I’ve done my best to walk as a Pilgrim with others alongside our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ all the way to the cross. All the way to today.
All the way from the clash with the religious leaders in the temple, to Mary’s alabaster offering and on through the cacophonous cries of Hosanna! lining the Jerusalem roadside.
I stood outside the door of the Upper Room and saw the kneeling and the washing, the bread and cup lifted up, and the hand against His on the table. I heard Him sing a song. I stumbled along to Gethsemane and tried to keep my soul keen and awake for this one hour as the tension built and the blood-sweat trailed down his cheeks, soon to be kissed and called, “Rabbi”.
I stood in the shadows with Peter, saw the spitting mockery, the lashes and then heard the rooster crow in the distance and those same Hosanna voices turning inward on themselves, dipping into their own souls… my soul… and twisting back out into an ugly…CRUCIFY!
The crown, the cross, the crowd.
The forgiveness, the forsaking, the cry… it is finished!
Sundown, the tomb and nightfall leading into the long silence of Saturday.
These are the moments that get me the most. As I try to imagine the grief of Peter and the dazed fear and disappointment of the disciples—maybe mixed with disgust— who had to be reliving every one of these moments over and over in their minds. Remembering just a week ago and now THIS? Wondering, “How did we get here? Now what”?
That soul-stifling silence that you never expect to end. Death and the grave. Shattered dreams and expectations lay crushed beneath the weight of the enormous silence of Saturday.
Yes…Sunday is coming but Saturday doesn’t know it… yet.
Somewhere in the early morning hours on that 3rd day, God moved ever so slightly and the song continued. The stone was rolled away and the body wasn’t there. Because He lives!
Here we are: with the possibility of being the people of Sunday and the risen Savior who can find measured joy in this Holy week, remembering our forgiveness purchased in these unfolding events and all the prophesy foretold of them since the Dawn of Time— we can anchor ourselves in these moments because–HALLELUJAH!– the story…the song— didn’t end in the silence of Saturday. Not at all.
It’s something we must remember. It’s stated in one of the earliest creeds we know today how He suffered, he died and was buried. On the 3rd day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures. He is seated at the right hand of the Father and….. He will come again to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.
He’s coming back.