Revelation 8:1-5 - A Moment of Silence
A girlfriend called her boyfriend, one day, as she was driving to an appointment. She made it to her appointment, but her boyfriend could tell from the sound of her voice that she was getting more and more frustrated by the minute. Finally she said, “I know I had my cell phone with me. And now I can’t find it!”
The boyfriend replied, “Aren’t you talking on it?”
There was a solid period of stunned silence as the reality of the situation sank in – followed by, “You are not going to tell anybody about this!”
As opposed to the boyfriend, who under duress probably did keep quiet, John, who had been ordered by God to share everything he saw, shares with us even more of the vision that God has given him to share with the folks enduring persecution from Rome, and to share with us today.
We have recognized that this vision is being given to John by none other than Christ himself.
We have read as Jesus, through John, addresses all the churches in Asia Minor, and in turn, all the churches of history, as we continually heard and hear the words, “let those who have an ear, hear what the spirit is saying to the churches.” We read as the churches were encouraged to hold fast, stay faithful, and offered correction for where there was concern.
We have seen a glimpse of the throne room of God, with the Lion of Judah, who is the Lamb with the marks of slaughter that still lives.
We watched as the seals of the scroll were opened and saw the horsemen, representative of the persecution of the people of God, were loosed, we heard the cries of the martyrs, and we saw as God’s presence entered our realm to bring judgment upon the persecutors.
Last week, we experienced an interlude between the sixth and the seventh seal, and saw the sealing of all the people of God, and realize that as the Roman Empire is in the history books and that God’s church is still living and active among us, that the sealing is true and has held.
Today we return to the opening of the seventh seal…and so much happens in the opening of that seventh seal.
And, if you will indulge me, not like you really have a choice, I am going to work backwards through what we experience with the opening of the seven seals.
With the opening of the seventh seal, we see the seven trumpets given to the seven angels, and realize that out of the seventh seal, comes the next cycle of seven, the cycle of seven trumpets that, like the cycle of seven seals, recognizes the persecution of the people of God, and the judgment that God will bring upon the persecutors.
Those trumpets once again connect us to the eternity of God’s Word from the Hebrew Scriptures, through today:
In Exodus 19:16, God’s presence upon the mountain is signaled by a trumpet blast.
In Joshua 6, the walls of Jericho, a city that stood between the people of God and the Promised Land, were brought down by the seven priests blowing the seven trumpets.
In Joel 2:1, the trumpet is sounded to announce the approaching Day of the Lord, Day of God’s Judgment.
In Matthew 24:31, we read that the sounding of the trumpet will announce the return of the Son of Man to Earth, accompanied by the angels of Heaven.
Finally, in the Revelation to John, the voice of the one speaking to John in chapter one and four, sounds like a trumpet.
Before the sounding of the trumpets, with the opening of the seal, we also see an angel taking incense and mixing it with the prayers of the saints and witnessing it rise before God. Just as we recognized that the cries of the martyrs were heard and responded to, this image of the smoke and prayers of the saints rising before God, gives hope to those who are living and seeking to remain faithful to God. What is that hope? Hope lies in knowing that God receives our prayers. The prayers of the saints reach the throne room of God, and come before God, Himself. I think that there are times in our lives, when times become so hard and we wonder, are my prayers doing any good; does God hear my prayers; are my prayers even reaching God…it is then, we need to keep this scene in mind and know that the prayers of the saints…the prayers of God’s faithful, are always received by God. And the fact that they are mixed with incense, which offers up a pleasant aroma, suggests that the prayers of the saints are pleasing to God.
However, before any of this, before the sounding of the trumpets, before the pouring out of the prayers, comes the first thing that happens when the Lamb opens the seventh seal. The first thing that happens is (silence—allow roughly 30 seconds of silence) .
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” We were silent for half a minute, but in Heaven, it was half an hour.
There is an old wise saying, and no one is really sure where it comes from, but it holds true: “Silence is often misinterpreted, but never misquoted.” There are many interpretations of what this silence is with the opening of the seventh seal, and prior to standing before the throne of God ourselves, we will not know whether the interpretations are true, or misinterpretations, but there are plenty of opportunities and reasons for quoting this silence.
Silence is powerful. How many of us had a teacher or a parent, who in the midst of our acting up, would just grow silent, and wait until that power of silence reached us and we completely understood their disapproval?
How many of us have ever experienced something so beautiful…whether a sunrise or sunset along the beach, the morning fog lifting off the mountain top, the birth of a child, or even the peaceful passing of a loved one, and the only appropriate response was silence?
How many of us have needed moments of complete silence, like the young girl talking on her missing cell phone, to let the reality of a situation completely soak in?
How many of us have waited in complete silence as we anticipated a surprise—whether that surprise was something we wanted or something we were dreading?
Silence is powerful…and it is needed. Psalm 46:10 could sum up all of the previous experiences of silence this way: “Be still, [be quiet], and know that I am God.” To help make this connection complete, Psalm 46 is about God being the refuge and strength of His people in times of trouble.
Silence was needed. Think of all that John and his readers (including us) have experienced in these visions up to this point…the vision of Christ, Himself…the letters to the churches…the vision of the throne room of God and the Lamb…the opening of the first six seals…the sealing of God’s people…the wonder, the distress, the destruction, the hope…a time of silence was needed to simply let it all soak in.
The silence also heightens the expectation of what is to come…we don’t know what it is at this point (if we take John’s position as the visions unfold)…we know that all that the people undergoing Roman persecution had received up to this point had been words of hope, words of encouragement…and so they, and we, anticipate that there is more hope to come. The silence serves to amplify that anticipation.
My friends, we always want to get on with it. So often we don’t like to stop, be still, and be silent. Trust me, anyone who has ever laid on a table for the nuclear scan part of a stress test, or on an MRI table, or even for an x-ray, and been told to be still and be quiet, knows that just as soon as they are told that, they want to move and probably have something to say. Tell a child to be quiet, and the first response is probably not silence, but “why?”. If a conversation grows quiet, we try to fill it with small talk.
Yet my friends, it was silent in Heaven for half an hour…no one dared speak…no one dared shuffle their feet…they stood silently in awe of the God who they recognized had come in judgment of evil and was offering hope to the oppressed. The prophet Zechariah (2:13) calls on the people to “Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling”…and the prophet Zephaniah (1:7) says, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand…”
My brothers and sisters, we must take a moment, or actually several moments of silence before God, to reflect on what He has done in the lives of His people and in our own lives…and anticipate what He is going to do, the ways He is going to work in the lives of those who are faithful, the judgment that will befall those who persecute His people, and where we will fall amongst those groups.
This morning we have the opportunity to reflect on the most powerful way, so far, that God has offered hope to His people. This morning we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The meal in which Christ Himself told His followers, “do this in remembrance of me.” When we receive the bread, when we receive the cup, we are to do so, remembering the sacrifice of Christ…the love of God, freeing us from our sin.
This morning, I am going to ask that we do something different for Holy Communion, for we need to experience the silence of divine anticipation, so from the Prayer of the Great Thanksgiving, until the Prayer at the end of Communion, I would ask that we observe silence…take the time to reflect on what God has done for us, and spend silent, prayerful time, anticipating what God is still doing, and will do in our lives next. Before we enter this time of silence, I do remind you that Christ’s table is open to all who will receive, regardless of age, regardless of gender, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of denominational affiliation, regardless of where we find ourselves in this life, Christ invites all who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to grow in his likeness. Our choir will receive first, and the ushers will direct the rest the appropriate time to come forward…if for some reason you are unable to come forward and would still like to receive, simply signal the usher, and they will direct us to bring the elements to you.
So, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, let us now enter into this time of silence. Amen.