“An Easter Earthquake”

“An Easter Earthquake”
Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
April 9, 2023 | Easter Sunday

When we were moving into our seminary apartment in Pasadena, CA, back in 2004, the advice was immediate and repeated:

Wherever you do hang pictures, secure them really well.
Furniture – secure it to the wall.

Put nothing valuable on shelves. And whatever you do put there, secure it well.

This was all very eye-opening for this Midwesterner, but of course, they all knew, and those of you who’ve lived near a fault line knows – earthquakes.

“Go, make the tomb of Jesus as secure as you know how.” These are Pontius Pilate’s words to his guards just before our passage today.

In this instance, Pilate is trying to avoid a political earthquake.

He knows Jesus had said something about rising three days after dying, and Pilate does not need any of Jesus’ disciples stealing Jesus’ body from the tomb and starting up a whole thing about how Jesus is alive. “See he is back after three days!”

“Make the tomb of Jesus as secure as you know how so there is no chance that body is going anywhere.”

And so the guards go to the tomb where there was already a large stone rolled in front of it, and they sealed the stone with some kind of substance to make it all the more secure and then they stood, fully armed, before the tomb.

The resources of money, power, military… that’s as secure as we know how to make most anything. What’s going to break through that?

I remember a couple of months into our time in Southern CA, I was sitting in our new apartment, and I myself didn’t feel anything, but I could see these glass jars of spaghetti and beans and pasta that we had put on the shelf in a manner I thought pretty secure… all them were shaking and shuffling right along the shelf as if coming alive themselves and they smashed to the floor.

Picture frames hung pretty snuggly were coming loose.

The tall DVD (not nailed to the wall) stand fell flat on its face.

“And suddenly there came a great earthquake as an angel of the Lord descended and rolled away the stone.”

In my case, it was a small earthquake, and recent days have reminded us how profoundly devastating and tragic the ‘great’ ones are.

But you know, earthquakes of any size….do you know what the most fundamental thing about them is?

The profound sense of how little control we have over what will happen.

When it happens….there is no control over what will break.
What will not.
What will fall.
What will not.
What will remain.
What will not.

It’s terrifying.

And whether or not we’ve ever known a literal earthquake, I do think we know something about this fear.

Because a lot of our days are spent trying to heed Pilate’s words and make things as secure as we know how

We make our homes as secure as we know how.
Our vehicles.
Our money.
Our plans.
Sometimes our political positions.

In society, we value places where we feel secure from crime, secure with our health, secure with our leadership.

We like it when the plan is ‘nailed down” or maybe “locked in,” when things in general are settled, safe, certain.

Sometimes, even, we’ve been hurt or burned enough in this life that we also make our hearts as secure as we can.

We build a calcified wall that refuses to believe in hope; that settles in a cynicism that is confident that nothing out there, in them, or in us… will ever change.

And if suddenly we discover we are standing on a fault line of some sort, all we have been securing is cracking open…

or breaking
or falling
or failing
or somehow being ripped away by forces that are so much bigger than what we can control… That’s terrifying.

The earthquake, the angel, the stone rolled away…  The women, we read, are afraid. The guards ‘shook and became like dead men.’

“Do not be afraid.” The angel speaks. Apparently, this particular earthquake is not fundamentally a bad thing.

The angel goes on to explain: “Jesus is not here. He is raised as he said he would. Come, see the place where he lay.”

This earthquake is the arrival of life breaking the certainty of death (He is Risen)

the ‘certainty’ of military might and money,

the ‘certainty’ of a cynicism that knows nothing ever changes,

the ‘certainty’ of our best-laid plans.

This earthquake is Jesus – life breaking through where we thought surely it was all settled.

How rarely we think of Good News announced by what feels like chaos and disruption.

And yet, in Matthew’s Gospel, there is an earthquake recorded when Jesus dies on the cross and an earthquake when it is announced he lives.

Which begs the question:

  • What if any of the chaos that consumes our lives, our hearts, our nation, our world…
  • What if some of the rubble that lays at our feet this morning…
  • What if some of the cinder blocks of certainty that are now falling out of place…

…What if somehow it’s all part of an Easter Earthquake?

What if we’ve been standing on a fault line this whole time…but the in-breaking is not destruction but life growing in ways far greater than we could have known to ask for or imagine?

Which is to say…is any of this Jesus?

“Oh yeah…where’s Jesus in this mess?”

The angel goes on to tell: “Go to Galilee because Jesus is ahead of you there already. You will see him there.”

When earthquakes happen, it is natural for us as individuals, as a people, a church…it is natural to begin picking up the pieces of broken glass, trying to re-hang our reality just like it was…

…pull the room,
our heart,

our society,

our church back together just like it was…

But what if the word of God is this?

Drop the rubble. Jesus is in the earthquake and he’s already on the move. Catch up with him.

Go toward the next thing God is nudging you towards.

Go see how the aftershocks of Life are already rippling ahead of you…”

And, by the way, our job as we see all this unfolding?

Like these women, these very first preachers of the church of Jesus Christ, the angels make clear our job:

“Go and tell the others.”

Be the people who see the chaos and rubble and do not shout blame or try and reset the room just like it was but be the people who say…

Be the people who know we live our days along a fault line…and that the Good News of Easter arrives as something uncontrolled and jarring and unsettling – and beautiful.

Be the people who run and say, “What if this is an Easter earthquake? Jesus breaking through death, sin, addiction, cynicism, settled plans that are not God’s plans…”

What if God’s word to those standing in the rubble… “Time to run. I’m alive in this chaos – even already I am moving ahead of you”?

I am struck that the women leave the empty tomb “with fear and great joy.”

Fear – let’s be honest. If there is rubble at our feet today, whole cinder blocks within or without cascading down this very moment… that doesn’t stop being scary. Fear.

But also – ‘great joy.’ For though the women have not yet seen Jesus, they are convinced that the earthquake at hand is somehow the power of Life rising.

In fact, one of the chief signs that joy has more of our heart than fear…we keep moving forward.

The women run.

And lo and behold, right there as they are running by faith – Jesus meets them and speaks a word of welcome. “Greetings.”

And a word of peace. “Do not be afraid.”

And a word of direction: “Keep moving – go tell the other disciples.”

May our fearful legs find renewed joy this Easter morning. Trusting that what is breaking through most foundationally through the chaos is, in fact, Jesus himself.

And as we begin moving in faith…  may we likewise know the grace of the Risen Jesus himself surprising us with a word of welcome.

A word of peace.

A word of direction.

Indeed, if in recent days amid all the rubble and the rest we have known a voice provides just such words to us:

was it the ripple of Life himself speaking?

A sign of Hope Risen?

Is Love already on the move – aftershocks of an Easter Earthquake? Amen.

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert