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.
Just before we moved here, my son Giles and I spent three days staying in Rekjavik. It was February, there was snow everywhere and our hopes of seeing the northern lights were dashed because of the extensive cloud cover each night....Nonetheless, it was a wonderful and memorable visit – not largely because the peculiar geology of the place, based as it is on a series of volcanoes, make its presence felt in many ways...There were the plumes of steam that shot unexpectedly out of the ground, even out of the pavement, at regular intervals; there was the inescapable smell of sulphur whenever we had a shower, reminding us that the water on the island is heated geothermically...and of course there were the famous geysirs – hot springs named after the father and mother of them all, at Geysir itself. But the thing that made the greatest impression on me was, quite simply, a crack in the ground...You see, Iceland lies on the geologic rift between the Eurasian plate and the North American plate...and só, at a place called Tingvelir (close to where the world's first parliament was ever held) you can see one end of the fault that runs beneath the Atlantic and across America, emerging thousands of miles away in California as the San Andreas fault. I was fascinated to actually see this evidence of the shifting nature of the earth...and slightly disappointed that we didn't actually feel its influence directly, in the form of an earthquake.
Remember, this was three years ago. In the light of recent events in Haiti, New Zealand and Japan, I can instead be wholeheartedly thankful that we escaped direct experience of what happens when the plates of the earth shift or collide. The raw power unleashed in those events is incredible...changing lives and landscapes in a few moments, for all time.
Matthew is the only gospel writer who mentions an earthquake on Easter morning. Matthew tends to include the big things like that – he’s the one who tells us about the star and the magi coming to Bethlehem too. Matthew understands that Jesus’ presence in the world is a cosmic event, after which nothing will ever be the same. And so he tells us about an earthquake.
Earthquakes are measured by seismographs and studied by seismologists. Both of those words come from the Greek verb seismo. And that verb, which means to shake or to quake is all over the place in the end of Matthew’s gospel. Last week, we had the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem in Matthew 21:10 and heard that the whole city was in uproar, or in the Greek, the whole city was shaking Then again, on Good Friday as Jesus gave up his spirit, the earth shook. And now, in today's short gospel, it happens twice. The earth shakes while an angel rolls back the stone. And then the Romans guards shake and become like dead men.
What’s all the shaking about? The world has changed. Just as an physical earthquake releases the tension built up beneath the earth's crust, só the tension between God's way and that chosen by fallen humanity has built up over centuries....The pressure mounts as Jesus both lives and preaches another route – challenging the powers that be, personally, socially, politically, religiously. Small wonder that they need to silence him...That's the story of Good Friday. The powerful take on and defeat the powerless...The vulnerable are wounded...Might trumps right.
That's Friday – the day when the sky turns black and hope seems lost forever....but on Sunday comes another earthquake – God's way of rearranging things, restoring the fullness of life to his world.
In the resurrection, God says Yes to Jesus and No to the powers who killed him.
God says Yes to the way of loving self sacrifice and No to a world set on domination, hierarchy, exploitation and greed.
That earthquake is the force of God's love, changing everything forever. It is the fault line running through history and through our lives, altering the landscape of both beyond recognition. We can't be sure that we'll stay safe – if by safe you mean, comfortable, secure, in an environment that you can control. I don't think that has ever been part of the deal when, through baptism, you begin to share Christ's risen life...
Not for nothing do the angels of the resurrection greet the women
“Do not be afraid”.
This is scary stuff, not a picnic in the park, or a quiet visit to a cherished monument.
This is an encounter with the life changing God, breaking into his world with all his recreative power – power enough to bring down the mighty, power that can, and does, make all things new....
This Easter we meet to celebrate a world turned upside down ...Can we, as we do só, invite the risen Christ to turn our lives upside down too.
Of course it is a risk.
It involves giving up control, shifting out of the driving seat forever.
Nonetheless, do not be afraid...
This is the God who transforms death to life, not just for his own beloved Son but for all who put their trust in Him.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!