Hands up all those who have ever felt an earthquake? Our brothers and sisters in New Zealand are all too familiar with feeling the earth shake beneath their feet.
I’m sure they would tell us that this can be terrifying, because there is nothing firm, nothing staying still and secure for you to stand on. The best approach is to get to a place that at least might offer at least some protection from falling objects, or to keep you safe from the walls toppling down on top of you.
But there’s another type of earthquake that most of us have felt, or will one day feel. This is where our life gets very shaky. The things that we have trusted as firm and secure have suddenly become very insecure. For example, you may have had a good job, secure investments, and a great house to live in. But how did, or would you feel, if you lost your job, all your hard earned investments or your house was lost?
Or, perhaps it’s not property, but you may have had good health. You do everything right, you look after yourself, eat and drink the right things, but then your health fails. Your strong legs, hands, or heart become very shaky and you feel you will never be the same again and you grieve for lost opportunities.
Maybe you lose friends or family. You may have had a good spouse that was taken away by tragedy, or through bitter and gut wrenching divorce. You may have lost siblings or close friends that you think you will never be able to replace.
Whatever it is, we have either faced it or will one day face it. We will be faced with times of upheaval, turmoil and our future will look very shaky. The things we had previously put our faith in, or relied upon, are snatched like a rug from under our feet, and we grasp at anything that promises even a glimpse of security.
Now imagine you are Mary Magdalene or the other Mary. Your world has been tossed up, shaken and torn. The man, who promised so much, had been gruesomely killed and laid to rest in a tomb. This man had performed miracles, he had stood up to teach those in authority how to live according to God’s Word, and he had even raised people from the dead. Yet, when he died without a whimper, your hopes and dreams are shattered. Where is your hope now?
As you try to cope with the emotional earthquakes over the past few days, you go to the tomb to see it once more. On your way, you experience a physical earthquake.
The guards at the tomb also feel the earthquake. Along with the shaking of the ground, they see an angel of the Lord in shining white who rolled back the stone in front of the tomb. Most appropriately, they did the only logical thing when faced with such strange sights – they shook like an earthquake themselves and fell over as if they were dead.
It’s strange that St Matthew alone focuses so much on earthquakes and shakings. There are several times in his gospel account where he points out a violent shaking. For example, when Jesus died, the earth shook and rocks split. The guards around Jesus saw the shaking and bore witness that Jesus is the Son of God. When Jesus rose from dead, the earth shook once more and the guards witnessed it again.
Matthew is trying to tell us something.
He is trying to point back to other times when the earth shook. As we look in the bible, we see that when the Israelites were around Mt Sinai, the earth shook. God sat on Mt Sinai and the ground shook. Perhaps Matthew is pointing to the fact that when the earth shook at these times, God was present on earth? These were times when God acted. These were times when God sent his judgement.
God was in action at the time of Jesus’ death and at the time of his resurrection.
Yet earthquakes bring fear. Where is our security when everything has changed, moved all around and been taken away from us? As the two Mary’s walked toward the tomb and felt the earthquake, did they think, ‘Oh, it’s ok, God’s at work?’ No, in fact they were terrified. Their whole world had been turned upside down.
At the time when they thought God was absent and defeated, the angel said those wonderful words; ‘Do not be afraid.’ Later, when they hurried from the tomb with mixed feelings of fear and joy, how did Jesus himself greet them? ‘Do not be afraid.’
Why shouldn’t they be afraid? Why shouldn’t we be afraid?
Because God is at work. In the midst of turmoil and upheaval, God is at work. As Jesus is raised from the death, God’s judgement has been carried out. Our wicked foe has been defeated. Jesus rose triumphant from the grave. Death has been defeated.
Yeah, yeah, so what!
We’ve heard this a hundred times before.
Every year, and even a few times during the year, we hear those words. We hear Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. We hear death has been defeated. But what has that got to do with my struggles at work, my struggles at home, my fading health and my loss of friends and family?
It’s when the physical, emotional and mental earthquakes surround us and we feel like we are on shaky ground, the words the angel and Jesus spoke to the women are the most welcome and reassuring words we want to hear: Do not be afraid.
Because what’s the worst that can happen?
We could die.
Well, in this case, do not be afraid! Death is defeated and life is victorious.
Since we are joined to the body of Christ through baptism, we have already risen. Jesus has already died our death for us. He carried our shame, guilt and punishment for our wrongs to the grave with him. He entered that great devouring mouth called death. But instead of being swallowed by that gaping and hideous mouth, he devoured death itself. Death now has no teeth. Previously our picture of death was this huge mouth full of rows upon rows of razor sharp teeth, waiting to gobble us up. Instead, the mouth is no more harmful than a newborn baby with those massaging soft gums.
Now, since he has risen to new life, we too have risen with him. Through Christ and his resurrection, we have already crossed over that dark chasm and now live in the light of eternal life.
This is the reason we do not fear – because death has lost its sting. Because Christ lives, we live also.
This helps us face our daily earthquakes. We discover that when we think we only have shaky ground, we instead have the most secure ground available. We have a secure ground that can never be shaken.
We have the secure ground of God’s precious Word: those wonderful words that come in the midst of our earthquakes. Words like ‘do not be afraid’ and ‘your sins are forgiven.’ Here in this church, we have a sanctuary from the world’s earthquakes. Here we gather in a sanctuary which provides peace, comfort, and forgiveness.
We have secure ground in Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Those wonderful words ‘He is risen’ reassure us that there is life after death. There is light after darkness. There is hope after hopelessness. There is security and peace even when all things are shaken about. Here as we celebrate his glorious resurrection, we receive that joy and hope in Christ.
When our world seems to shake and quiver, remember those wonderful words of Jesus: ‘Do not be afraid.’ Take his Word for it. He has gone ahead of us to heaven. He waits to meet us there at the appointed time. There we will see him with our own eyes and he will greet us again with grace, joy and peace.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.