15 July 2008


Above the entrance to the church where I was a child, there is a sign with a passage of Holy Scripture, Habakkuk 2:20, "The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." I recall that as a child I never really understood why the sign with that particular passage was at the entrance to the church, as it seemed to me that it was hardly ever silent in there; whether the pastor was preaching, or the congregation singing with the organ playing or us kids talking before, during and after parish school chapel. I do recall being concerned that the whole congregation was breaking some law of God every time we came to church. However, I think I finally figured it out on Sunday, in the way of the Gospel.

Where I have been put, our usual practice at the distribution is to sing two hymns. Our Kantor will descend from the balcony to receive the Body and Blood of Christ following the singing of the first one, but this Sunday he did something a bit different. After the singing of the Agnus Dei, he didn't play the first hymn, but came down to receive right away, and so while the first 40 or so people received the Blessed Sacrament, there was - silence. All except for me and my office-brother speaking, "The Body of Christ given for you... etc." I mean, you could hear a pin drop in the place. No whispering, no babies crying (a miracle I am sure, helped by the fact that mine had attended the earlier Divine Service), no milling around - I was catching sneak peeks to see what was going on since it seemed to be so quiet. So what came to my mind during the distribution? Habakkuk 2:20 - "The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."

We live in a world with constant noise, most of it junk. The silence was so very good. I found myself wishing that the Kantor wouldn't play any distribution hymns. The silence made me thankful, for it showed the devotion of the faithful who gather on the corner of Park and Grant in Brookfield. Of course there has been silence during the distribution before but on this past Lord's Day, thanks to our Kantor and those faithful, I was finally given to understand the prophet's words on the sign above the church door in the way that comes by the Gospel. The LORD was in his holy temple, and on that piece of earth, on that corner, there was silence before Him. The LORD was present according to the promise of His Word for those dear Christians to eat His very Body and drink His very Blood and that raised up such great joy, adoration, reverence and devotion that all the people of God could do was sit and be quiet.

I think we need more silence in the way of the Gospel. I think I am going to tell the Kantor to skip a hymn or two every once in a while. I think I am going to see about getting one of those signs.

Pr. BT Ball+


Rev. Jonathan C. Watt said...

Habakkuk 2:20, "The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."

Pr. B Ball was speaking about silence... but, in the midst of his sanctified silence when he was hearing the words of Habakkuk I had a flashback of this hymn from my youth. I remember sitting in the pew singing this hymn and waiting for my parents to return with that smell of alcohol on their breath. I also remember silence as we sat through the space/time between hymns and verses. The hymns had many more verses and we'd sing 3-4 then pause in silence. The old organist always seemed to pause in that silence for a very long time. I can clearly hear the words of the pastor.

Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins. May this strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting!

Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the remission of our sins. May this strengthen and preserve you the the true faith unto life everlasting!

Depart in Peace. (The Lutheran Hymnal, The Order of Holy Communion, p. 28)

And all that there is to be "silent" about is here in this hymn.

"God Himself is present"
"All within keep silent"
"Humbly kneel before Him"
"Holy, Holy, Holy"
"Fount of every blessing, purify my spirit"
"Trusting only in Your merit"
There's a sermon in this hymn.

"God Himself Is Present"
by Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769
Translated by Frederick W. Foster, 1760-1835
Lutheran Service Book, 907 (Text and Tune: Public Domain)

God Himself is present:
Let us now adore Him
And with awe appear before Him.
God is in His temple--
All within keep silence,
Humbly kneel with deepest reverence.
He alone On His throne
Is our God and Savior;
Praise His name forever.

God Himself is present:
Hear the harps resounding;
See the hosts the throne surrounding!
"Holy, holy, holy"--
Hear the hymn ascending,
Songs of saints and angels blending.
Bow Your ear To us here:
Hear, O Christ, the praises
That Thy Church now raises.

Fount of every blessing,
Purify my spirit,
Trusting only in Your merit.
Like the holy angels,
Worshiping before You,
May I ceaselessly adore you
Let Your will Ever still
Rule Your church terrestrial
As the host celestial.

(from my blog: http://sermons.wattswhat.net/2008/07/god-is-in-his-temple-communion-hymn-if.html)

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Dr. Rast might deny this if asked, but I thought I remembered him saying that when he was at his parish in TN he once waited like five minutes or something before getting up to preach after the hymn. People had no idea what to do with it. I think you are right though--we cannot deal with silence in the church. I don't even like there to be silence during conversation. It always seems awkward.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I appreciate your thoughtful perspective on this, Brother Ball. And I say that as one who advocates and appreciates the use of distribution hymns (one of the earliest ways in which Lutheran congregations used their hymnody). Ironically, I was reminded of one such hymn, in particular: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." I love that hymn, but I know that it has sometimes been interpreted as heavy-handed, threatening or legalistic. For that reason, also, I am glad for your evangelical take on silence in the presence of the Lord, who comes to feed the faithful with His life-giving body and blood.

At the Midnight ChristMass one year, my son noticed that we began with "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" as the processional hymn, but then, during the distribution, we sang the similarly beautiful hymn, "Of the Father's Love Begotten," which approaches the doxological crescendo of the final stanza with these words (at the end of stanza 4 in LSB 384): "Let no tongue on earth be silent, every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore."

There is powerful, paradoxical tension at work, it seems to me, in the presence of our God and King: the solemn silence of reverent faith, and the joyful song of praise and thanksgiving. It is most fitting and salutary, therefore, that the Spirit Himself also intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Our Savior said...

Pr. Beisel speaks of Dr. Rast and the silence story. I haven't heard it, but I can say that I know of Episcopal congregations that practice a long period of silence between the reading of the Holy Gospel and the sermon. In some places it can be up to five minutes of silence. The time gives all to reflect on what they heard before the Word is expounded.

Silence can be a good thing. It can also be license to navel-gaze; to curve in on one's self.

I am torn in this matter. On the one hand, I see the importance of silence during the distribution of the Lord's Supper. I am considering doing away with hymns during the distribution in the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent.

On the other hand, I can see where silence can be counter-productive. We Lutherans are not that good with silence in the Divine Service, let alone before and after.

Food for thought from Pastor Ball. Thank you, brother!