“After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:1-10)
There can be no doubt that in many significant respects, we live in a Good Friday world. And in an intriguing synchronicity with what’s been happening in our world in the past several days, weeks and months, the gospel lessons from last Sunday and again for today speak of earthquake….last week in the Passion narrative which told of the earth shaking and rocks splitting at the moment of Jesus’ death; and again today as an angel rolls the stone away from an empty tomb. What better way to describe an earth-shattering event, than to say and believe that the earth moved? And we know, from the routine seismic events in New Zealand, and from the rapid and threatening changes to the worldwide political landscape, that in both a literal and figurative sense, when the earth moves, we are often destabilized ourselves. When our very foundations are shaken, when all that we understand and have grown to expect suddenly alters dramatically, we do tend to remember it, and try to attach meaning to it. We look for God’s hand in it. But not all earthquakes in life are destructive, as today’s Gospel suggests; sometimes it takes a bit of shaking to get our attention, and I don’t know about you, but I consider the idea of resurrection to be something worthy of description by earthquake. This is something life-altering to say the least.
The women who came to the tomb that first Easter morning came with a Good Friday attitude. Jesus, their friend and teacher, the inspired man of courage who had been an outspoken ally in their daily struggle for justice, healing, and hope, had been cruelly murdered in a gross miscarriage of justice at the hands of the occupying Romans and their local collaborators. Now apparently vanished into thin air was his God’s-eye vision of a world where women, men, children, Jews, Gentiles, saints, sinners, lost sheep, and prodigal sons all had a rightful place in God’s family. For many who had met Jesus this was wonderful news: powerful, healing news which had offered hope for a degree of personal dignity and status which had hitherto been out of the question. That was certainly the case for the women who came to the tomb, but with his death, that vision and that hope had abruptly faded. And so, in one last comforting ritual act of farewell, they came only expecting to pay their last respects, to entomb their dreams along with him, and then to disappear back into the darkness of their Good Friday world.
But instead, suddenly, unexpectedly, their world was shaken by an angel, by blinding light, by a startling message….for Jesus wasn’t there; and in a delightful ironic twist, the guards also shook and became like dead men, right in the place where the dead man they were guarding used to be. And before the women knew it, the ground-shaking news of Easter became clear: Jesus wasn’t finished with them; and Jesus is not finished with us, and certainly not finished with our often tense and embattled world.
So, we come to visit the tomb today as well. We come with the full awareness of our broken, Good Friday world but discover that like the women in the story, we haven’t been called here to give up, give in, or raise our hands in despair. Instead the empty tomb calls us to find Jesus in the here and now, going ahead of us, inviting us to follow, and going wherever he is going next. This isn’t to say that life will be rosy and full of sunshine and flowers all day every day; most of us who have been around the block a few times know better than that. Life will still hand us our share of challenge, distress and loss. But we do believe that Jesus will be with us when we make the resurrection of our Good Friday world a bigger priority than all the minor issues and misplaced energy that distract us from our mission and purpose: when we believe that hope can be reborn, that relationships can be healed, and that possibilities never before anticipated can become reality. As an Easter people, we boldly embrace the notion that in some inexplicable and mysterious way, God accomplished something new and earth-shattering at the boundary between life and death; and that in consequence Jesus lives and looks for ways to shake our proverbial foundations.
So here’s the invitation: let’s welcome the earthquake of resurrection as an Easter people! Let’s accept the invitation to embrace new beginnings, renewed hope, and new life that bubbles to the surface when we least expect it. Let’s seek and acknowledge the presence of Christ in our lives, today, now……the presence that challenges us, changes us and gives us strength to persevere, to seek justice and to live in peace; to exercise compassion; and to live with the unshakeable conviction that life and love are stronger than death.
So spread the earth-shaking news! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The Venerable Nancy Adams