If you worship at the Dripping Springs Church of Christ, you will witness practices which seem out of place in popular Christianity: we sing as a congregation without the use of instruments; there is no praise team or choir; prayers are led and a sermon is preached from the Bible. The service is simple. There is nothing spectacular about what we do. Some feel uncomfortable with this simply because it is unfamiliar. If the other practices don’t phase them, our practice of the Lord’s Supper (Communion) might: as we partake, there is absolute silence. During this time, if a baby cries, they are quickly hushed or taken out of the auditorium—not because they have to, but the silence seems to demand it. A cell phone ringing is the hight of embarrassment during this time. Even coughing or sneezing seems like an intrusion. Some may wonder, in light of how uncomfortable it makes some, why we chose to remain silent during this time. Here are a few reasons.
It challenges the culture of noise
America has created a culture of noise. Whether we are in the car or the grocery store, we are surrounded by music of some kind. In fact, if we enter a business and they don’t have music playing we immediately feel uncomfortable. Many of us can’t even sleep without “white noise”—a fan or a TV playing in the background lulls us to sleep. We listen to podcast while we brush our teeth, the news when we go for a run, and have the TV playing so often in our home we don’t even notice that its on. Noise is the new norm.
And, in some ways, we are worse for it. Silence forces us to think, to contemplate, and to meditate. We are made to spend time with the self and reflect. Long periods of silence often moves our minds toward deeper realities: our morality, purpose, and the fear of isolation. At other times it gives our intellect a rest from the constant barrage of information and we have a chance to remember and reminisce on the past. Often our imagination is stifled by constant stimulation, but silence faces us with the demand to create. Many times our decisions are emotionally based—a practice that is encouraged by an overdramatized culture in which we feel every moment must be romanticized. This over-saturation of noise is historically unprecedented. The technology we surround ourselves with, although beneficial in many ways, can insidiously damage an important part of human experience (i.e. silence) if we aren’t careful. We need time to reflect, to think, and mediate on deep truths—reality altering truths.
This is why I believe silence during the Lord’s Supper is so important. We need a time where our emotions aren’t manipulated by lighting, music, or even a pleasant sounding hymn. We need a time to sit with the reality of self—with all of our sin and brokenness—and think on the grace given to us in the blood and body and the demands it makes of us in the coming week. We need to contemplate our mortality, and what it would mean without the realities these symbols represent: a black, cold existence without the death and resurrection of our Lord. Our hearts need rest and reflection, free from the distraction of noise; to be still (literally, let our hands hang loose, free from anxiety) and see what the Lord has done (Psa. 46:10). The church preserves and presents a community of reflection and meditation; a place where you are given time, on a weekly basis, to think deeply on the most reality shattering truth: the death, resurrection, and future return of Jesus.
It instills a sense of sacred
There is a reason that we pause for a moment of silence when someone has passed or a tragic event occurs: it is to honor the significance of the moment by interrupting the normal cacophony of daily existence with pause. It creates a sacred space of silence in which we honor those who have passed and recognize the tragedy they endured.
In a similar way, when we pause in silence on Sunday as we partake of communion, we recognize, in awe and wonder, the great tragedy and triumph of Calvary. As we sometimes sing, “This is holy ground. We’re standing on holy ground.” The culture of modern day Christianity seems to stomp on anything sacred; to scoff at anyone who calls for proper form/attire when approaching God in worship. Maybe there is some truth to the critiques of the past; yet, in our desire to create a culture of ordinary, we may have trampled the sacred. Christians need to be reminded on a weekly basis that they live in the presence of the Lord; that their heart and life is sacred space for the Holy One. If all the earth is to keep silence before Him, shouldn’t His people (Hab. 2:20)?
It reminds us of the transcendent
Speaking of the realities that Christians experiences within the kingdom, Hebrews 12:22-24 says:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The Christian experiences a new reality within Christ; one that is tied to our current existence but transcends our present experience. We live, trusting in the promises of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:7) and the new reality he will one day bring in the “new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). We live in expectation, and the future reality of the fulfillment of God’s reign transforms how we live in the now.
Yet, on a daily basis we are surrounded by a culture that pushes us to trust only in the moment; to live for the passing and pleasurable. This is subconsciously enforced by the mad rush of American consumerism, the tabloid ethic of fame and happiness, and constant buzz of social media. More than ever, Christians need time to reflect and meditate on the transcendent reality they are called to live. To recognize that God has worked and will work again (1 Cor. 11:17-ff). That there is a power—a personality—that transcends the frantic noise of the nations. That there is a “deeper magic” (as Lewis would say) which is the stronger undercurrent of reality—a strength that politics, popularity, and power can’t control. I believe that moments of silence, like we experience in communion, reenforces the Biblical worldview. It forces God’s people, for a moment every week, to stop and recognize that something glorious occurred and is currently working toward its ultimate end.
While I can’t necessarily point to a scripture which demands absolute silence during communion, I believe the theological roots are there. Before we reject tradition, we should think more deeply and discerningly about our motives in the present and the reasons of the past. The discipline of silence within the worship of the church is an important part of spiritual formation. Its a precious jewell in the crown of the church of Christ (and others who may practice it) and one I hope we will preserve and defend for generations to come.