The Earthquake of the Resurrection

Matthew 28:1-10

Coming from New Zealand, I grew up being used to experiencing earthquakes. Some of the ones I have experienced are still vivid in my mind, as they have a lot of power to them and can have a significant impact. Last year as many of you know there was a big earthquake on the South Island near Christchurch that caused great damage. The thing about earthquakes is that they reverberate, which means that the earthquake is often felt far from its epicentre. Speaking to my dad, he was telling me that in this big earthquake, even though he lives on the other side of the Island, he felt the impact and the earth shook for 4 minutes, the biggest earthquake he had felt, which says something of the power of this earthquake.

In our modern world we know why earthquakes occur. We know that earthquakes happen because of the friction that occurs between tectonic plates under the ground rubbing against each other. But when we look, scripture earthquakes often indicated that the Lord was speaking to his people. For example, just before the Lord was going to give the Ten Commandments to Moses it says in Exodus 19:18, “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently.” This is only one example of many with the earth shaking when the Lord spoke.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Easter has earthquakes. In his crucifixion account in 27: 51-54, right after Jesus died, it says: “51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

And in this morning’s Gospel from chapter 28, after Jesus’ resurrection, and after the women had come to the tomb, it says: “2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

At Easter our Lord speaks through the actions of his Son, and just like an earthquake reverberates and is felt far away, so too would this first Easter day. And it began with these women at an empty tomb of our risen Lord. “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

The most powerful moment in history, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead, was seen and spoken of by just these few women at the tomb; it then spread to the disciples, then throughout Samaria, Galilee, the Mediterranean and beyond. And in fact two thousand years later it is still being spoken to us.

Right from the beginning of Jesus’ life in this world, evil was at work, as it always had been. Herod, when hearing that a king was to be born in Bethlehem, tried to kill him, sending solders to kill all the children in the region. Jesus confronted evil in his life leading up to the cross where he experienced the intensification of evil with his death on that cross. But the God who shakes the earth cannot be stopped from speaking his Word and life into our world. The story that begins with fear ends with overwhelming joy. Jesus’ birth is shadowed by many deaths, but Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brings the promise of the resurrection life for all.

When our Lord conquered sin, and death, by his death and his resurrection, it started an ‘earthquake’ that has been felt around our world for centuries. The resurrection of our Lord and the forgiveness that we now have from the chains of our sin have been changing lives, destroying death and indeed have changed the course of human history—not only the history of this world, but also changed the course of eternity.

I know that as we look around us, it seems as if evil is closing in on us again. We look at all of the churches that are near-empty, the churches that are closing, the direction that our world seems to be heading in and we wonder. Perhaps we wonder whether the effect of this earthquake has run its course. But it hasn’t, because the resurrection of our Lord Jesus is still rumbling in your life. The second reading for today from Colossians chapter 3 speaks these words to you and me: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Through your Christian life, in which you have been baptised into Jesus’ death and his resurrection, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is at work in your life. The power of the forgiveness of your sins is still at work; the power of his spoken words to you is still at work in your life. And as a consequence, these things are still at work in this congregation, this body of believers. Through this church’s life the earthquake continues to rumble and spread. The world looks at our lives as his followers, as we continue to point to Jesus and his resurrection.

And this is the hope that we continually cling to in our daily lives. No matter what we see going on in the world around us. No matter how discouraged we may become because to us it seems that the church is dying. I encourage you to stand firm knowing that the earthquake of Jesus’ death and resurrection will continue to be felt across the world until it is ended with a trumpet call, when death for all is finally overcome.

Finally, I would like to encourage you all to remember that our God often acts and moves in ways that we don’t often see or perceive. Often we are discouraged because we don’t see the bigger picture as God does. The Good News that you and I believe and hold onto began with a man afraid to marry his disgraced fiancée; it began with a fearful king who tried to kill potential rivals for his own power; but it ended with victory over sin and death and with overwhelming joy. It ends with these women following the resurrected Jesus’ command; a command to all of us; that is: Stop being afraid! God has defeated death. Rejoice, and share the good news! As we do this the earthquake keeps reverberating.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day I encourage you all to rejoice, because the power of his resurrection is still being worked out in your lives as his followers today.