This Shakes Things Up – Sermon for Easter Sunday, on Matthew 28

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Once more, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on this glorious day. A day of joyfulness and exuberance—the fountain that fills our faith and our very lives with their true meaning. Death has been swallowed up in victory; where, O grave, is your sting? Because of that, we are called, we are challenged as Christians to look at life differently than the rest of the world. That’s because the resurrection of Jesus means something, and not just means something in general, but means something for us. It means something for us as the people of God, gathered here today and around the world, but also for you personally. United with Jesus in the fountain of life through baptism, we know, just like Jesus was raised from the dead, that we too walk in newness of life, and we believe since we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Had Christ, who once was put to death, not been raised to life again, our faith would be in vain: but now is Christ arisen, and that makes all the difference—for us, for you.

Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Picture it! Philadelphia. 2011. I’m sitting at my desk in my dorm room, newly moved in as a student at seminary. We first year seminarians—juniors, they called us—had already been at seminary a week for orientation. The rest of the students—the middlers and seniors—were moving into their dorms and apartments. As I’m sitting at my desk, I hear this low rumble and feel vibrations that last for a few seconds. It felt like the whole building shook. I thought to myself, “Someone must have a really heavy bookcase they’re moving in.” And I go back to whatever I was doing on the computer.

A little while later, when I left my dorm and ran into some of the other folks on campus, I come to find out that it wasn’t someone moving heavy furniture. Rather it was actually an earthquake that caused the rumbling noise and vibrating feeling. Of course, I had to go look up all the details—because that’s what I do.

It was a 5.8 magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was deep within the mantel of the earth under Richmond, Virginia. Seismologists, scientists who study earthquakes and similar things, reported that it was the most significant earthquake to hit the east coast of the United States in 67 years. Even though it was 230 miles away, Philadelphia clearly felt the earthquake and even sustained some damage. In Center City, glass shattered in some of the large office buildings. Hundreds of people went out into the streets. Phillies fans rushed out of the stadium when they felt the tremors, but after it passed, they filed back inside, and the night’s game against the San Francisco Giants still went on. The Phillies won FYI, 2:1.

So I was pretty excited that I had experienced an earthquake, and just like everything else in my life that I get excited about, I had to call my sister Mariah and tell her about it. After the initial shock—get it, initial shock?—she asks me, “Are you okay?”

“Oh yes,” I reply. “I’m okay.” And not being someone who misses a good opportunity, I add, “Even if I am a little shook up.”

In all seriousness, that really did happen. On August 23, 2011 an earthquake in Richmond, Virginia shook up everything up for hundreds of miles up and down the Eastern Seaboard. It’s called the “2011 Virginia Earthquake.” The effects could be felt all the way up into Canada, and were felt by more people than any other earthquake in United States history.

The earthquake affected things you might not expect too. The air traffic control tower at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City was evacuated. Flights were delayed across the country. At Ronald Reagan Airport, ceiling tiles fell in one terminal. The cellphone network was bogged down for over an hour after the quake with the increased bandwidth usage of people making calls. The National Cathedral in Washington, DC sustained cracks in some of its flying buttresses, which ended up costing multiple millions of dollars to repair. In Connecticut, the New Haven Open at Yale tennis tournament was stopped for two hours and the stadium evacuated to check for damage. Staff at the zoo in Washington, DC said that during the quake, some animals made loud noises, some ran for cover, and some stood up and stared at the walls of their enclosures. Some of the animals even remained agitated for the rest of the day. The effects of the 2011 Virginia Earthquake were felt all over. It really shook things up.

The same can be said for the earthquake that happened the morning of the resurrection. Today we heard how the women went to the tomb, and as they were going, an earthquake hits. An angel of the Lord comes down from heaven, rolls back the stone, and sits on it. This was not what the women expected—not at all. They expected to find a dead body, the body of Jesus. Instead, the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel descends from heaven, and tells them, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s some earthshattering news. A man, a dead man—raised from the dead, alive again! That’s not what we expect. It’s not what the women expected either, even if Jesus did tell them, as the angel reminded them, “as he said.” It’s just so hard to believe that something so fundamental as the finality of death can be undone, turned upside down, shaken up.

But that’s exactly what happened. And it’s not that the angel just told them Jesus was raised; they actually meet him—alive again from the grave! God shook up the way the women expected things to work in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And God’s still shaking up the way we expect things to work. The resurrection shakes, rattles, and quakes in our lives in ways that undo and turn upside the ways that we expect things to work.

The resurrection shakes up how we expect sin and death to work. We confess, we believe that Christ has died. All the things that would stand in the way of good relationship with God in our lives—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, nothing today or tomorrow, high in heaven or low in the depths of hell, nothing we can conceive of in our minds, good or bad—those things are no longer an issue because of what God has done. Where someone tells us that our sin, our brokenness, our nonconformity keeps us from God, point to the cross and resurrection and say, “Christ died for me.” When you tell yourself that your sin, brokenness, or some other secret you hold deep within keeps you from good relationship with God, look to the cross and the resurrection and remember, “Christ died for me.” That’s the significance of the resurrection today, for us, for you. The resurrection shakes up how we expect sin and death to work.

But that’s not all.

Not at all.

The resurrection shakes up how we expect our lives to work. We confess, we believe that Christ is raised. Even those things in our lives that aren’t easy are given knew meaning in light of the resurrection. Popular wisdom bombards us with the notion that busy, hectic lives are better, lives cluttered with mental and emotional garbage, frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness, divided homes and divided lives, and farcical caricatures of relationship with other people. The resurrection changes our lives, gives new meaning to our day-to-day goings and comings. We praise God and see God active in our lives even when we’re beset by difficulty, not because we’re naïve, but because we know difficulty can bring about strength in us, and that strength kindles within us the fire of virtue, shining a light on whatever God will do next. In watchful expectancy such as this, we’re never left sitting in the dark. That’s the significance of the resurrection today, for us, for you. The resurrection shakes up how we expect everyday life to work.

But that’s still not all.

The resurrection shakes up how we expect things to happen going forward. We confess, we believe that Christ will come again in glory. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, and the resurrection is the seal of that conviction. But just like those women who went to the tomb the morning of the resurrection went in despair, expecting to find a dead body, we go about our lives often thinking we know how things are going to unfold. But we often forget the promise that God makes us, just like Mary Magdalene and the other Mary forgot that Jesus had told them before his death, before his resurrection that he would be raised. The angel had to remind them after the very earth, something solid and predictable, shook underneath them. “He has been raised, as he said.”

And so it is for us that the resurrection shakes up our future, even when we think we know how things will unfold. God has, time and again, shown us that his promise always to be with us, through thick and thin, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, richer or poorer—that promise is unshakeable. God does not abandon us. God has, time and again, shown us that hope is stronger than despair, perseverance is stronger than resignation, that positivity is stronger than negativity. Divisions can be overcome. Suspicion can be dispelled. In the end, love wins over all things—and especially where we least expect it. That’s the significance of the resurrection today, for us, for you. The resurrection shakes up how we expect things to happen going forward.

And so, the effects of the Resurrection Earthquake were and still are felt all over, to this day and into eternity. It really shakes things up.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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