Matthew 28:1-10

April 20, 2014 Easter

a great disturbance

Roy W. Howard


There was a great earthquake for an angel of the Lord descended, rolled away the stone and sat on it. This great earthquake is a detail that is reported in none of the other gospels. And yet, it makes sense that an earthquake would be the metaphor to describe the news of the resurrection. After all, when an earthquake occurs energy waves are sent out in every direction for miles and miles. Aftershocks occur days and sometimes even weeks later. Eugene Peterson reminds us that Matthew uses this detail to describe the historical impact of Christ raised from the dead. It’s a jarring image that points our attention to what happens after an event disturbs everything and everyone. (Like yesterday in Mexico) In Haiti, people refer to time as Before  the Earthquake or After the Earthquake, much like traditional historians speak of BC (Before the birth of Christ) and AD (after his death) to mark time.  The resurrection has similar affects as a great earthquake.  Peterson says, “When an earthquake occurs, we want to know what happened to the community. We are curious about lives lost and lives saved, about acts of heroism or selfishness. As waves of resurrection energy spread, what will be the results? How will men and women respond?”


We know a few of the responses from the story and have clues about others. The guards where so shocked that they became as zombies – the living dead. Those brave, faithful women were filled fear – of course! Jesus is gone and there is an angel sitting on a rock – yet, deeply mingled with that fear is another even stronger feeling of joy; a joy so powerful that it has set them loose, running to tell the brothers what they have experienced. Then when Jesus greets the women, all they can do is fall at his feet and worship with joy. Later, we are told when Jesus addressed the shocked community: they worshipped him, but some doubted.


And there you have it: a wide range of responses to this event that still disturbs the world – everything and everyone in it. There is fear and there is overwhelming joy, there is worship and there is nagging doubt. When faced with something so startling as the resurrection, the response may be run the gambit: from fear to joy, from faith to doubt, and all of it mixed together. And Peterson says, “The way a person responds to the resurrection is the most significant response we will ever make.”


And that, it seems to me, is the question that we always face most directly on Easter. How will you respond to the resurrection that changes everything? “No response” is not really an option anymore than one can live through an earthquake as if nothing has happened. Either Jesus is alive or he is dead. If he is dead than the Apostle Paul is right: we of all people are most to be pitied and Easter is nothing more than an autopsy report for dead religion.


There is a scene from The Good Wife that bears telling today. Alicia Florick is grieving the sudden and tragic death of her dear friend Will Gardner. Alicia’s high school daughter, a fledgling Christian, tries to comfort her mother with the promise that Will has entered eternal life, heaven. She says it’s because Will is a good person but underneath that sentimental optimism is a more serious conviction about God who saves the dying from eternal death. Her mother, Alicia, wants no part of it. Through tears of grief, she rails at her daughter for believing in a fairy tale without substance. There is no hope and there is no God, she screams. Her daughter also in tears calmly asks her mother how she knows there is neither God nor hope? When no answer comes, she tells her atheist mother, maybe you need to let go of that fairy tale.


It’s just that reversal that occurs when the women at the empty tomb let their joy overcome their fear. Or even when worship occurs mingled with doubt. One does not need to be dishonest in the face of such an earthshaking event as resurrection. The gospel gives an opening for those whose faith is tentative, on the edge where wonder and unbelief vie for your heart.


Wherever you are this morning I encourage you to take a risk. Let yourself believe in the promise that Christ is alive. What the women proclaimed was the Good News that Jesus is alive. Take a risk: let the women be your guide.


Wherever you go, be not afraid, for Christ will be there ahead of you.


When you are wheeled into the operating room, be not afraid,

Christ will be there ahead of you.

When you venture out to give drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry be not afraid, Christ will be there ahead of you.

When you greet the stranger, be not afraid; welcome them,

for Christ will be there ahead of you.

When you sit the dying, be not afraid, pray for them,

for Christ will be there ahead of you. 


Wherever you go, be not afraid, for Christ will be there ahead of you.


This is no fairy tale. It’s an earthquake: 

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed.