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Easter: Easter as an Earthquake Matthew 28:1-10

By William H. Willimon
"It was a good campaign while it lasted. But we didn't get Him elected Messiah. Death has the last word. We had hoped, but you've got to face facts. You want some lunch?"

The world is in the tight death-grip of the "facts." All that lives, dies. The good get it in the end. Face facts. It may be a rather somber world, but it is our world where things stay tied down and what dies stays that way. And there are few surprises. This is us.

But Easter is about God. It is not about the resuscitation of a dead body. That's resuscitation, not resurrection. It's not about the "immortality of the soul," some divine spark that endures after the end. That's Plato, not Jesus. It's about God; not God as an empathetic but ineffective good friend, or some inner experience, but God who creates a way when there was no way, a God who makes war on evil until evil is undone, a God who raises dead Jesus just to show us who's in charge here.

I don't know this for sure, but I think that Easter earthquake angel perched on the rock rolled from the tomb was the same angel who, back in Matthew 1 (Matthew 1:8-25) shook Joseph awake one night with the news that his fiancee was pregnant. (Talk about an earthquake!) See my point? God did on Easter in invading the tomb what God did on Christmas in a virgin's womb. Made a way when there was no way. Took charge. The same angel who was sent to tell Joseph, "Name the baby, Emmanuel, God with us," was the angel who told the women, "Don't be afraid. He isn't here. He's been raised." Little God with us grew up, got crucified, made the earth shake, and is on the move to take back the world.

On the cross, the world did all it could to Jesus. At Easter, God did all God could to the world. And the earth shook.

You don't explain that. You witness it. That's why the Risen Christ appeared first to His own disciples. They had heard Him teach, seen Him heal, watched as He loved the poor and attacked the rich, watched Him be arrested by the soldiers, tried by the judge, and crucified.

Why would Jesus come back first to His disciples? Because they were the ones able to recognize that this Risen Lord was none other than the crucified Jesus. Crucifixion wasn't just an unfortunate mistake in the Roman legal system, the First Century Judean equivalent of the O. J. Simpson fiasco. Crucifixion was the inevitable, predictable result of saying the things Jesus said, and doing the things Jesus did, and being the Savior Jesus was. This is what the world always does to people who threaten the world. Face facts.

But on Easter, God inserted a new fact. God took the cruel cross and made it the means of triumph. God (the same Creator who made light from darkness, a world from void) took the worst we could do, all our death-dealing doings, and led them out toward life. And the earth shook.

A new world was thereby offered to us. Jesus came back to forgive the very disciples who had forsaken Him. The world is about forgiveness, as it turns out, not vengeance. And the earth shook.

Jesus picked up a piece of bread and ate it and you could see the nailprints in His hands. The world is about life, as it turns out, not death. And the earth shook.

In the fifties, in China, there was a devastating earthquake. But as a result of the quake, a huge boulder was dislodged from a mountain thus exposing a great cache of wonderful artifacts from a thousand years ago. A new world suddenly became visible.

When the stone was rolled away, and the earth shook, we got our first glimpse of a new world, a world where death doesn't have the last word, a world where injustice is made right, and innocent suffering is vindicated by the intrusion of a powerful God.

The women came out to the cemetery to write one more chapter in the long sad story of death's ascendancy, one more episode of how the good always get it in the end. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper of resignation at death's dark victory.

And then -- the earth heaved, an angel appeared, the stone was rolled away, Caesar's soldiers shook. The angel plopped himself down on the stone in one final act of impudent defiance of death, and the soldiers and all that, and said to the women, "Don't be afraid. You're looking for Jesus? He isn't here."

Then that angel turned to the soldiers and said, "Be afraid. Everything your world is built on is being shaken."

Nobody went back the same way they came.

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