A Silent Sermon

By J. Michael Shannon

Communion services usually are very quiet gatherings.

The music is usually soft, and people do not talk and laugh among themselves. This is almost universally true regardless of the church tradition of those partaking. While there is an appropriate sense of joy in the celebration of what Jesus has done for us, there is also a silent awe that comes over us because of the magnitude of the sacrifice.

9communion6_JNOur quietness is almost instinctive.

And so it was for a monk, as the old story goes, who was assigned to do the homily for the brothers in his monastery. He had never preached before, and he announced he would be preaching on the love of Christ. The brothers wondered what he could say on that topic that would be original.

When it came time for the message, the lights went out. Silently the monk came to the front of the chapel and proceeded to light a candle. He held the lit candle up to the crucifix on the wall, and let the light linger on the wounded feet of Jesus. He then moved the candle slightly so the congregation could see the wounded hands of Jesus. He paused for them to see the wounded side of Jesus. Finally, the candle highlighted the wounded brow of Jesus.

Saying nothing, he blew out the candle and dismissed the crowd.

Was it really a sermon? The brothers thought so, and so do I. He had led the worshippers to meditate on the wounds of Christ.

Something similar happens when we look at and eat the bread, which represents Christ’s body, and when we look at and drink the cup that represents his blood. Silently, we look at the bread, and it speaks to us. Silently, we look at the cup, and it speaks to us. We could talk long and wax eloquent about the sacrifice of Christ, but it needs no rhetorical flourishes from us.

The suffering of Christ speaks to us in the quietness of the moment. That is a sermon worth listening to.

J. Michael Shannon serves as a professor at Johnson University, Knoxville, Tennessee. 

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