“Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord…came and rolled back the stone” (Mt. 28:2).
Earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, and other natural disasters can unleash fear, devastating damage and loss of life in an instant. In the gospel of Matthew, earthquakes accompany Jesus’ death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday. They are dramatic witnesses pointing to our salvation and victory over death. The earth trembles, shakes, and proclaims: What wondrous Love is this! Death has been swallowed up in victory!
Other types of earthquakes occur when our lives are shaken. Our communities and world can be insecure and fragile, acts of violence strike all too often, and our personal lives and families can be shaken and turned upside down through the loss of a loved one, health, job, property, or relationships.
Imagine the women at the tomb on that Easter morning. First, they experienced the emotional earthquakes of the previous days surrounding Jesus’ suffering and death – they saw Jesus die and their hopes shattered. Then, going to the tomb, they experience a physical earthquake. An angel tells the women: “Do not be afraid.” Jesus meets them and says: “Do not be afraid.” In the midst of grief, Jesus is present among them and they see God at work. When life’s earthquakes shake us, these words reassure us: Death is defeated! Life is victorious! Do not be afraid!
Sometimes people want to have both the resurrection and their life to go on as usual. Matthew’s message, however, is that Easter is more than an event measured on the Richter scale. Jesus’ death and resurrection changes things and sets off aftershocks that continue to be felt throughout the world. Easter’s earthquake proclaims the awesome power of God to give us life and salvation. It produces aftershocks that continue to give joy and new life in Christ. And, like those early followers of Jesus, those who come to the cross and witness the empty tomb are changed forever. The stones of our stubbornness, resentment, preoccupation with self and possessions, and a hard heart are rolled away – revealing God’s love, forgiveness, peace, righteousness, and salvation.
The angel’s message for the women sends them on an urgent mission: “…go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him’.” This message is also one of assurance and comfort: We fear not, for we are not alone. Jesus goes ahead of us, never sending us to a place he has not already been. Jesus’ death and resurrection defines who we are. It’s the kind of thing you don’t explain; it’s the kind of thing you proclaim!
The angel rolled back the stone and the women saw that Jesus was risen. May you, like the angel, roll away the barriers of life for others, that they may also see that Jesus lives and frees us from all which would entomb us in fear, darkness, or the shadow of death. And, as you go and proclaim the love of Christ to others in word and deed, may you have that blessed assurance that Jesus is there with you, walks beside you on the way, and brings life!
(You can download a PDF of this message for printing and distribution here.)