A Voice for the Voiceless

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            In their attempt to be in control, powerful people often attempt to stifle the voices of others. One aspect of the good news of Easter is that God is working to give voice to the voiceless. That’s the message of this sermon, which I preached at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Saint Johns, PA, on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993.

If you’re sick, it must be God’s will. Just bear it silently.

If you’re young, you should be seen, but not heard.

If you are a woman, stay in the kitchen, and keep your mouth shut.

At the time of Jesus, those were common attitudes. “Common sense” said that the sick, the young, the women had no say in important matters. They were among the voiceless ones in society. Jesus came to change that. He came to give voice to the voiceless.

Illness, many believed, was sent from God as punishment. The sick were sinners, from whom nothing could be learned. But Jesus healed the sick, including the dumb, and they began to speak. Jesus gave voice to the voiceless.

Children were expected to keep quiet around adults; that’s why the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” And when Jesus healed in the Temple, the children began shouting, “Praise to David’s Son!” Jesus gave voice to the voiceless.

Men were not to speak to women in public. But at the Samaritan well, Jesus not only spoke to a woman, he listened to her. They talked about weighty questions of faith. Jesus gave voice to the voiceless.

Society had silenced many people. But when Jesus came, he allowed all to speak. He was creating a community of dignity, in which everyone’s voice was heard.

But power structures—the people in charge—tend not to like open communication. Those in charge want people to keep in their place. To stay in line. To not say a word.

And so when Jesus opened the mouth of the mute, the powers complained, “This is a work of the devil.”

And when the children shouted the praises of Jesus, the powers objected, “Children ought to be quiet.”

And when Jesus allowed women to be part of his company, the powers said, “A woman’s place is in the kitchen.”

The powers saw the kind of community Jesus was creating. They didn’t like it. They wanted to be in charge; they wanted to call the shots; they liked the common sense of the day which said, “Only the healthy, only the adults, only the males shall have a say in how things are done.”

They saw Jesus changing all that. If he succeeded, they would have to share power. And that frightened them.

They decided that if Jesus were silent, the rest would be silent also. So one night, with no advance warning, they hauled him into a trial. Only it wasn’t really a trial. The decision had been made before Jesus got there. Oh, Jesus was allowed to speak. But the powers had made up their minds ahead of time.

So they declared him guilty. They killed him. They buried him. And as the stone was rolled over the entrance of his tomb, I can hear the powers saying, “There. Now he’s silenced forever.”

St. Matthew tells us that a couple of days after his death, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” That’s all, as Matthew tells the story. Other gospels say the women went to anoint the body, or that they spoke to one another as they walked. But in Matthew’s version, the women are silent.

What else is there for them to do? When Jesus was alive, he had been shown them respect and dignity. But now Jesus was dead. His voice was silent, and so were theirs. They were back to where they had been before Jesus met them. They were right where the powers wanted them: Looking at the tomb, with nothing to say.

Then God broke the silence: the stone was rolled away.

The voice of Jesus was heard again, and he said to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

“Go and tell.” The women were given voice. The power structures—those in charge—wanted them quiet, and kept in their place. But Jesus said, “Go and tell.”

Go and tell the most amazing message: Christ is risen! And with his resurrection, the voices of the women, and of all the silenced ones they represent, are opened. The community which Jesus seeks—a community of dignity and respect—will be established. All voices will be heard.

To the women and all the voiceless ones they represent, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid when the powers—those in charge—try to keep you quiet. Do not be afraid when they say you are the wrong age, the wrong sex, the wrong color, the wrong race, the wrong religion. Do not be afraid when they try to keep you in line. Do not be afraid when they try to keep you in your place. Do not be afraid. They may embarrass you, they may humiliate you, they may even beat and kill you. But do not be afraid. For I am alive, and I am with you, and I am giving you my voice.”

Amen.

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