Has anyone ever felt an earthquake before…? What did it feel like…?
I experienced my first earthquake about 6 years ago. It was August 23rd, 2011-- a typical day in the office at my church job just north of Albany, NY, and it was just after lunch in the afternoon. And all of a sudden, I felt like I was on a boat. The ground was swaying so much that the pictures on my office wall were swaying along! A small statue came dangerously close to falling off my bookcase.
“What’s going on???” I hollered, making sure I didn’t fall asleep at my desk and was dreaming.
Lori, our organist and acting Administrative Assistant at the time, hollered back from the main office across the hall: “It’s an earthquake!!”
The pastor of the church, Pastor Jeff, bolts out of the bathroom at top speed. “Is it an earthquake??” he shouts. “I was doing my business in the bathroom and thought I was going crazy when I felt the ground move!” (That had to be weird for him, no doubt!)
I stood up, and it felt like I was surfing on solid ground. After about 2 minutes or so, the swaying subsided and all three of us starting freaking out at the same time, realizing that we had just experienced an earthquake.
Turns out, the earthquake’s epicenter (where the center of the quake began) was all the way down in Virginia. It’s magnitude was 5.8 on the Richter Scale, which is considered a moderate to strong earthquake—and was felt by more people than any other earthquake in United States history. Experts estimate that one-third of the US population could feel the earthquake, with people as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, as north as Quebec City in Canada, as far west as Illinois, and as far east as New Brunswick in Canada—with damage reported as far away from the center of the quake as Brooklyn in New York City. In Washington DC, the White House and the Capitol building were evacuated, and the earthquake caused cracks at the top of the Washington Monument, closing that historical site as well.
You would think that with such a large number of people and such a wide range, everyone would have known about this earthquake right away. But that would be wrong. And I know this for a fact, because my brother Stephen, living in Manhattan and going to law school at the time, had no idea this earthquake had happened.
When I sent him an email right after it happened to ask if he had felt the quake too, he responded back “I don’t believe you. I didn’t feel a thing.” I sent him a link to a blurb from a big news site that had just posted about the earthquake. “I’m not buying what you’re selling,” he wrote back. Only later in the day, when it was a leading story on the news, did he believe me!
When we read the story in the Gospel of Matthew, you may have noticed that when the two Marys go to Jesus’ tomb, there was an earthquake. It says in our Bible passage: “And suddenly, there was a great earthquake…” But unlike the earthquake I experienced a few years ago, this earthquake was because God’s angel (or God’s messenger) was coming down from heaven and rolling the huge stone away from the entrance of the tomb. Understandably, the Roman guards, there to guard the tomb, flip out, They shake from fear and “become like dead men.”
That earthquake at that tomb was beyond huge. It may not have been the magnitude of the one in 2011, but this earthquake was the most important one we know of. Why? Because it preceded the announcement that changed the world, forever.
Right after the earthquake and the angel rolls away the stone, he says to the two Marys, “Do not be afraid; I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said.”
Talk about a huge announcement! Jesus was raised from the dead? What the…? How could that be???
Then the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples, Jesus’ followers, that Jesus has risen and that he will show up with them in Galilee. So they left, running to go tell the disciples the message.
The thing is, though, with the women just giving them that humongous message and nothing else, many of the disciples would have probably had a hard time believing what they were telling them. I mean, wouldn’t you? They knew Jesus had been crucified very, very publicly on a cross like a common criminal just a few days earlier. For them, the story of Jesus was over. They wouldn’t believe what the women were telling them. If it happened today, they would be like my brother Stephen and say “I’m not buying what you’re selling!”
But as the women are running to tell the disciples, the resurrected Jesus shows up. “Greetings!” he says. And the women grab his feet and worship him, and he tells them, just as the angel told them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Aha! Now the women have not only the message from the angel, but their experience of the risen Jesus himself. WAY more convincing, and more proof to give the disciples that Jesus had actually risen from the dead. It wasn’t just based on the words of the angel—they actually SAW Jesus.
And here’s a cool thing-- did anyone notice that in Matthew’s telling of the Easter story there was a word that was used more than once at the beginning of some of the sentences? It was the word “suddenly.” Anyone want to guess how many times that word is used…? Twice.
The first time is verse 2: “And suddenly there was a great earthquake…” The second one is verse 9: Suddenly Jesus met them and said “Greetings!”
So the two things that happen suddenly in our reading—suddenly is defined as happening without warning and unexpectedly-- is the earthquake, and the women meeting the resurrected Jesus.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Matthew used that word with those two events. I think he was trying to get us to make the connection between the earthquake and meeting Jesus.
OK, I should add a disclaimer here. This doesn’t mean that every time we meet the resurrected Jesus, there will be an earthquake!
But it does mean, that—metaphorically—meeting the resurrected Jesus shakes the ground beneath our feet. It means that when we meet Jesus today, unexpected things happen that can make us feel like we are standing on shaky ground rather than solid ground. Meeting Jesus changes things, shakes things up.
Jesus was no stranger to shaking things up. He did that constantly when he was here on earth. We read in the Bible how he went against tons of rules that were set by people—he healed people on the Sabbath Day. He ate with people who were considered sinners. He told people to love their enemies. He died and rose again—despite people’s unbelief that he would! Jesus is clearly in the business of shaking things up—and he didn’t, and hasn’t, stopped after being resurrected.
Now, although the “shaking up” that Jesus does can be scary for us, Jesus reminds the women in the passage, and us as well, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus is moving and shaking things in our lives not to scare us, but to make us more of who God wants us to be.
Because-- after the earthquake shaking the ground, and the woman meeting Jesus in our story, everything changed. Although it was scary at the time, that change was amazing and life-altering. Because Jesus shook things up and rose again, we are able to share in that resurrection with him. When we die, we will be resurrected like Jesus and be with him forever! And until that happens, the resurrected Jesus is with us always, here on earth. How cool is that??
I want to you close your eyes for a minute. Think about a time when God shook up your life, when you felt like the ground you were standing on in life was suddenly unstable. Think about what that shaking up did for you—maybe God was showing you something, or maybe God was helping you to become more of who God wanted you to be. OK, open your eyes. How did it feel when God first shook up your life…? And later, when you figured out why…? Maybe you’re still figuring out why! That’s totally OK.
Jesus does this “shaking up” all the time. Because he’s resurrected, he can be anywhere, anytime. He can be in a gazillion places at once. He’s here right now! And he’s shaking and moving things in your life—have you noticed it? What is he trying to show you? How is he trying to change your life, make you into who God wants you to be?
And don’t stop there—how is Jesus shaking up Zion Lutheran Church? How is he showing us ways we can better serve him and be who he is calling us to be? How is Jesus shaking up old ways of thinking and doing, so that we can do his work with even more enthusiasm and effectiveness? And even more-- how is Jesus shaking up our community, our country, our world? How is he showing us new ways we can help others in need and tell people about him?
Jesus is here to shake things up! He did it that first Easter morning, and he is doing it right now, in our lives and in our world. How will you react to Jesus shaking things up? And, with Jesus’ guidance and leading, how will YOU shake things up, and help Jesus SUDDENLY do new and amazing things?? Amen?