Earthquakes don’t scare me. I lived in Taiwan for 2 ½ years, which is an island formed by tectonic plates rubbing up against one another. In other words, earthquakes there were very frequent. Most of the time they consisted of everything shaking and the feeling of being very unsteady on your feet, but they were over before I had time to be afraid. Some of the bigger ones did scare me a little bit, especially the time I was up on the 13th floor of a building tutoring some students in English, and the building started swaying and I ended up with a monstrous headache. The last earthquake I felt was in 2011, when I was at seminary working on my approval essay before my senior year began and there was one with its epicenter in Virginia that was felt up the Appalachians. I looked around as the shaking started and said, “Wow. I think that’s an earthquake.” But again, it was over before I really had time to be afraid. And I don’t feel anything that’s below a 4.0 on the Richter scale anymore.
Somehow, though, I think I might have been afraid of the earthquake that Matthew describes in his account of the resurrection. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary—we’re not sure which Mary Matthew means, here, as there were many women in the New Testament who were named Mary—go to the tomb where Jesus had been buried at the dawn of the first day of the week. And suddenly there was an earthquake, caused, it seemed, by the angel of the Lord descending from heaven as he came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. I kind of imagine the angel sitting there with his arms crossed and one leg over the other and saying, “What you looking at, punk?” And the guards that had been stationed there were so afraid that they passed out. Big, scary, guards from the Roman occupation—passing out from fear at the sight of an angel. But you know who didn’t pass out? The women. These women had been with Jesus when he was crucified. They had seen how the Roman soldiers had tortured him to death. They had watched when Joseph of Arimathea had taken Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb. And they had returned to the tomb that morning, in spite of the presence of the Roman soldiers, because they were determined to give Jesus the rites of mourning demanded for a dead relative. And nothing, not even Roman soldiers or an angel from heaven, was going to stop them.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the women were not afraid. In fact, the angel tells them not to be afraid, which is usually the first words out of an angel’s mouth when he encounters human beings. The difference between the women’s fear and that of the men was this: the women were simply not going to let their fear get the better of them. If they could watch their beloved teacher be tortured to death, then an earthquake and an angel would be nothing to them. And because they did not let their fear rule them, these women received the best news, the most incredible news, that anyone could ever receive: Jesus is not here, for he has been raised. You need proof? Come, see the place where he lay—he’s not there anymore. Go quickly and tell his disciples, who, by the way, are letting their fear get the better of them and are hiding out somewhere. The women, those brave women who were not going to give up, did as the angel told them to do. And as they ran with fear, joy, and a budding, trembling, hope within them, Jesus himself met them on the road. I can’t even imagine the joy they must have felt when they saw Jesus. Now, they really have proof: more than an empty tomb, more than the angel’s word, powerful as that angel might be—it is Jesus himself who meets them. And they can do nothing better than to fall at his feet and worship him. And Jesus tells them not to be afraid—it’s a natural reaction when someone you have seen die a horrible death comes to life and stands before you—but he tells the women to tell his brothers—his disciples are now called his brothers—to go to Galilee, for there Jesus will meet them.
Every year, when we celebrate Easter, we hear the majestic music announcing this, Jesus’ victory over death, and we celebrate with great joy. We shout out that Christ is risen, he is risen indeed! We sing those Alleluias that we were forbidden to say for six long weeks with vigor. But by the time Easter is over—and the season lasts for seven Sundays, one week longer than Lent does—we start to get tired of this. Christ is risen, he is risen indeed, is repetitious, and we want nothing more than to move on to the next season of the church year so we don’t have to say it anymore. Life returns to normal. The worries of everyday life take over again. We become fearful for the future of the church once more. Our loved ones still get sick, and they may die. So how do we keep Jesus’ resurrection in our lives when the celebration fades?
I think the Apostle Paul can help us out here with the section that we have today from his first letter to the Corinthians. There were some in the Corinthian church who were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead. I’m not quite sure why they were saying that—the Corinthian church was what in today’s slang is called a hot mess—they had lots of issues that Paul wrote to them about. Paul argues that if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. And, he says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . .. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” We can’t explain the resurrection of Jesus. People have tried over the years, and there is simply no satisfactory explanation. Therefore, we proclaim that it happened, that God has power over death and Jesus has proclaimed victory. And while we do follow Jesus’ teachings in this life, we know that because Jesus has been raised, we, too, have that promise of victory over death and of eternal life. Remembering this promise is how we keep that resurrection joy in front of us always as we live our lives here on earth.
And because we have that promise of resurrection from Jesus himself, it makes a difference in how we live our lives today. We do not need to fear death, because we know that death is not the end: we have been promised eternal life because Jesus has conquered death for us. So, we can be bold in showing God’s love for others in sacrificial ways. We can start by getting out of our comfort zones and talking to other people about Jesus and about his great love for us. With such an amazing God, who loved us so much that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for us, and not only to die, but to live again so that we, too, might live again, how can we not share this news with everyone in our lives? Of course, it doesn’t stop with telling people about Jesus. We also need to walk the talk by living as Jesus has taught us to live: caring for those in need, caring for this earth which God has given us, and serving one another in love. And with this promise of resurrection, we know that, no matter what troubles we face from day to day, this is not the end. God’s love wins. Every day.
So, live with that courage that Mary Magdalene and the other women showed, as they stood by Jesus through his crucifixion and showed up at his tomb on that first day of the week. Have that courage strengthened because you know that death cannot harm you, for you have the promise of resurrection and eternal life through Jesus Christ. Live with joy and joyfully share the good news of Jesus with everyone you encounter from day to day. Live with the love that Christ has given each and every one of us, and serve one another with love for the sake of the love that God has shown us through Jesus Christ, who lives eternally and has promised us that resurrection life. Show everyone through your words and your actions that Christ is risen, and because he lives, you too will live a full and abundant life. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.