On Friday, the quake hit just as Jesus breathed his last on the cross. It shook the ground, rocks were split, and “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,” who later, after Jesus’ resurrection, Matthew says, “appeared to many in Jerusalem.” Obviously a foreshadowing of what was to take place on the third day, little resurrections before the big one. Who is the one that made heaven and earth and all that is in it? Is it not this one, the same one who has entered into our human history, the one who saves us by sharing in our death and then conquering it by walking free, and indeed, going ahead of us, that we may see the way we are to go?
Last month in Japan, many seismologists were surprised at the strength of the 9.0 earthquake that struck near Sendai. “The Great East Japan Earthquake,” as it has been named, was the largest ever recorded in Japan. Until that day, common scientific thought held that nothing more than an 8, or a little better, would ever come from that particular fault line of the Pacific Plate.
But, things change! Now they are trying to learn from what happened, even as they measure its surprising size. For this unpredictable quake moved the northeast part of the Japanese island, almost 8 feet closer to the United States. The seabed was lifted 79 feet at its epicenter. And the Earth’s axis shifted almost 10 inches, which in turn affected the speed of the earth’s rotation, shortening the day by 1.8 microseconds! And the quake released a surface energy of 19,000 joules. "If we could only harness the energy from this earthquake,” one official said, “it would power the city of Los Angeles for an entire year."
If St. Matthew’s two earthquakes, on Good Friday and Easter, had been reported on Facebook today, we would have “liked” it immediately! These quakes are ‘good news’ in this gospel. God is acting here and now, and taking part in our human history, redeeming and saving it. These quakes are not destructive, but signs of holy change – the first will be last and the last first; a star will appear in the east and lead you to the baby Jesus – that kind of sign. Good news, that points to our rescue and vindication through the Messiah.
The rescue story that most touched me from the Japanese earthquake, was on the ninth day, when an 80 year old woman, Sumi Abe, was brought out alive. She and her grandson were trapped in her home when the quake hit. They became entombed there, like a stone had been rolled in front of their door. Inside they survived on yogurt from the refrigerator, and not much else, the same refrigerator that had tipped over on grandma and had pinned her legs down. Finally the grandson was able to break free of the tomb, and climb his way up to the roof of the house, and signal for help.
On Easter Sunday, as it turns out, I think there was a kind of aftershock to the quake that opened Jesus' tomb. It was when “suddenly,” Jesus meets the women outside the tomb, with that warm and simple greeting. “Suddenly,” is how the quake first hit, and also how surprising and movingly Jesus appears to the two Mary's, “the crucified one,” now raised. And it's no coincidence, I think, that that they “see” him when they are on their way to “tell” his disciples, in their excitement of both “fear and joy,” as they had just become witnesses of the resurrection news themselves.
Perhaps, it is us, ourselves, who are the entombed ones, longing to be freed, and looking for a way out, unaware that we are subsisting on yogurt when we could be dining on Surf & Turf and the Bread of Life! And so Jesus invites us to find and discover him. Indeed, he tells us he is going before us to Galilee. Galilee was home, the place where Jesus and the disciples grew up, and where they gathered the sick and all those needing healing, where Jesus feeds the 5,000 with 5 loaves, where he taught them in the Sermon on the Mt. Here is where you will find the new resurrected Jesus, back home, the place where you live and work. Jesus comes to us in our everyday lives, suddenly, calling us to follow, and gather others.
Earthquakes bring enormous change, shifting land masses and altering time, and the Easter Sunday quake is no exception. The earth has moved and a messenger of God comes like a lightening bolt to change us and our world. The resurrection is ground zero for us. We are altered on this side of it. Something has shifted our whole perception of reality. Death has been conquered, and we hear the good news, “do not be afraid.” And it is in Galilee, in our most familiar places, our homes and everyday lives, where Jesus will meet us, and this sea-change takes place. Suddenly, when we least expect it, Jesus appears. “Greetings” pilgrim! Glad to have run into you!
Jesus comes in water and word. Baptizing us into his death and resurrection, that we may live a new life with him. Jesus comes in ordinary meals, and in the bread and the wine of communion where we are assured of his presence and filled with bread for the journey.
Wherever we are, Jesus changes us, suddenly, embracing us where we live our lives and empowering us to live anew. And so we embrace him, in our worship and in our lives – as we celebrate in this foretaste of the heavenly feast set before us and as we are joyful sent out: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
All: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!