The Day the Earth Shook

Easter Sunday, April 9, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Matthew 28:1-10


Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The events of Easter confront us with a fundamental question – what do we do when the earth shakes, and everything we thought was true changes?

When the women reached the tomb, a couple days after Jesus had been crucified, they were there with heavy hearts. Seeing the sealed tomb would only confirm what was too difficult to believe. Their teacher, their friend, their Lord was dead.

Much like we may go to the cemetery after a loved one dies, they brought with them the grief of who they had lost, and a future that was no longer possible.  By now, they knew the Roman guards were also there, making sure nothing happened to the crucified body in the sealed tomb. The guard’s presence was one more confirmation that even if Jesus hadn’t been dead when he was laid in the tomb, he wouldn’t be alive for long.

But that is not how the story goes, is it?  As the women approached that morning the earth shook. An angel of God appeared in radiant clothing. The stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty! And this is where the question of Easter comes for them and for us. What do you do when the earth shakes and every thing we thought was true changes?

That morning death was not what the women or those guards witnessed. Instead, the earth shook and God brought life out of death!

But how the two groups responded couldn’t have been more different. The guards who appeared to have all the power to keep death in its place shook like the earth, but rather than life coursing through them, they became like dead men. They could not believe that life could come from the tomb. They were so invested in dead end ways that resurrection was impossible, even when it was right in front of them.

The women on the other hand, even in their grief came alive with wonder and trust when the earth shook. They went into the tomb to see it was empty and they listened eagerly to what the angel would tell them next.

Friends, have you been to the tomb lately?  Have you stood in that place where you went expecting to know the outcome, and found something completely different? Did you notice where resurrection was breaking in? Or cling to dead end ways?

We all have moments when we come to the tomb and don’t know what to do next. Do we shake with fear or turn to wonder about a future that seems impossible? Do we look for those who point us to resurrection in the hardest times, like when a relationship ends, or a job is lost, or a loved one dies?

I imagine you are here today because something about this resurrection story captures your heart. You want to believe like the women in the story, that at the Easter tomb, what is before us is more than we expect. That all is not lost. That there is life beyond the quaking earth and the dead ends that confront you.

Several years ago, Dave, Karen, and their four daughters were coming home from a week at Family Camp. It was a place they loved and went to every summer. On their way home a car driving in the opposite direction crossed the center line and hit their car head on. Dave, the dad, died instantly. Karen and the girls all sustained injuries, some more serious than others. Over months, they would heal from the physical injuries. But the earth had shook and everything they thought they knew had changed.

Dave was a physician and geneticist at Mayo Clinic. He dedicated his life to finding the root causes of cancer and sought ways to cure them. In the months after Dave’s death, Karen and her girls had to navigate a life they hadn’t planned for. Understandably, they dwelt at the tomb, staring at death for a long time, wondering if death would always define them.

But signs of resurrection were around them.  It came through others, as resurrection so often does. They were surrounded by a committed village of church and school families who showed them life was possible on the other side of death. These folks were like angels, guiding them away from the tomb and into new life.

Karen eventually went back to work in the lab that she had worked at when she and Dave met twenty years earlier. This time her work felt different. She was part of unfinished work her husband had started, and it felt good to see that work through. At the same time, Karen dove deep into faith. She deconstructed some of what she had believed to make room for a God who was big enough for what she had experienced.  In her search, a resurrected Jesus met her with compassion and grace she’d never experienced. The deeper she explored her faith, the more she discovered life. Resurrection was happening. Life beyond the tomb.

A few years later, Karen heard a calling to be a doctor. She tested the idea of going to med school with friends and colleagues. At the age of 49, she applied to medical school. It wasn’t easy and the path to new life wasn’t always smooth. Holding on to resurrection rarely is. Today, she is a family physician. She’s living life beyond the tomb. Sharing hope and healing that comes from knowing death, but not being defined by it.

When the women saw the angel, they moved beyond the tomb. They went to tell others that even though death was part of their story, it was not the end of the story. They told the disciples that Jesus will meet us. Jesus will lead us. Jesus will bring us life beyond what we can ask for or imagine. That’s what Easter does.

Because when the earth shakes God shows us that nothing can stand in the way of new life. Not Guards. Not Stones. Not Death itself. The last word is not what we think it is. God’s redemption and God’s persistence to bring about life in every situation, always and forever gets the last word. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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