Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | April 24, 2011

2011.04.24 “Did You Feel the Faithquake Called Easter?” Matthew 28: 1 – 10 – Easter Sunday 2011

Central United Methodist Church

“Did You Feel the Faithquake Called Easter?”

Pastor David L. Haley

Matthew 28: 1 – 10

Easter

April 24th, 2011

 “After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.

The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.

“Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.” Matthew 28: 1 – 7, The Message

It was 14 months ago – February 10, 2010 – when we Chicagoans experienced something we don’t want to experience, and thankfully, rarely do: an earthquake. 

At 3:59:33 a.m., the U.S. Geological Survey reported a 3.8 magnitude quake whose epicenter was a farm field on Plank Road near Hampshire, Illinois, 3.1 miles underground. Beyond that, they would speculate no further.

While the tremor was felt from Wisconsin to Tennessee, because it occurred at 4 in the morning, most of us missed it. (Michele just thought it was my snoring.)  So, the question the next day was, “Did you feel the earthquake?”  Anybody here who did? 

If you’ve ever experienced an earthquake, you never forget.  Someone once said “an earthquake is the way the Earth relieves its stress, by transferring it to the people who live on it.”  

I grew up in West Kentucky, not far from the New Madrid Fault. (It was not my fault, it was the New Madrid Fault). The New Madrid Fault last seriously quaked in 1812, when the Mississippi River flowed backwards for three days, forming Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee.  Geologists predict it overdue for another major quake, giving nearby large cities like Memphis, yet another reason to sing the blues.

  I remember sitting one day on the couch in our living room when all the lamps starting shaking, swaying from side to side.  My mom and I ran out of the house into the back yard, hoping not to fall into a big crack. Just then our next door neighbor ran out of her house with a broom in her hand, waving it and yelling: “There’s an animal under my house that’s shaking the whole house.”

Funny though that may be, for most places in the world, earthquakes are nothing to laugh at. In the last two years we have witnessed serious earthquakes: on Haiti, January 12th, 2010, 7.0 on the Richter Scale, 1,600 times the magnitude of the one here. New Zealand, February 22 of this year, 6.3. And, most recently and worst of all, the March 11th earthquake in Japan, 9.0 on the Richter scale, followed by a tsunami and nuclear plant catastrophe. As of Friday, the toll of dead and missing is 26,592.  No laughing matter.

        Sensitized to the power of earthquakes, did you take note of the detail Matthew includes in the story of Jesus’ resurrection, not found in either Mark, Luke, or John? Yes, an earthquake!  

As the two Mary’s approach the sealed tomb, all heaven breaks loose. I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven.” Just as at Jesus’ birth, when angels proclaimed it and a star marked it, so at Jesus’ resurrection, angels proclaim it, and an earthquake accompanies it.  By this earthquake is Matthew trying to say, as we would say down south, “Listen up, y’all!” Or is he trying to say, as an earthquake shakes the earth, so Jesus’ resurrection rocks the perception of life as we know it, such that it becomes not an earthquake, but a faithquake?

Accordingly, the question to us all this Easter Sunday morning is this: Did you feel the faithquake called Easter?

In life, it’s not just earthquakes that shake our lives, but, as Shakespeare put it, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Sometimes they are external events like earthquakes or disasters, but they can also be things like a positive report on a biopsy, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, financial hardship, the death of a loved one, or approaching our own death.  In any and all of these ways when we experience quakes that shake our lives, they almost inevitably become faithquakes that shake our souls.

That was exactly what had happened to the two Marys approaching the tomb, as well as the rest of Jesus’ disciples. Despite the trust and hope they had placed in him, by every human standard, Jesus had turned out to be a failure, and them with him. He lived less than 35 years; he didn’t travel outside his own country; they – his family and friends – had scarcely understood him; and when he died, most of them abandoned him. Tragically, though he had preached and practiced love; he had been beaten by might.  Though he had preached a God of love and justice, injustice had triumphed. Though he had preached the Resurrection and the Life, now he himself was cold and dead in a tomb. It was a faithquake all right, of the worst kind, one that shook their faith in life, in Jesus, and ultimately in God.  

        Honestly, at some point in our lives, we’ve all been there.  When we go through a humiliating experience; when we witness or become the victim of mind-numbing tragedy; when we experience a loss so dark and deep there seems little light left in the universe.  Like Jesus’ disciples, it shakes your faith in life, in Jesus, in God.

        I have a great sympathy – for example – for anybody who has ever lost a child, at any age.  My grandfather, when he was in his eighties, was driving home one day and little girl ran across the road right in front of him to get the mail, he hit her and killed her.  Ever after that he said, “If only I had died instead of her.”  A few years later, at a high school reunion, I met the girl’s parents, who whom I had graduated. They told me, after the death of their daughter, they had seriously contemplated suicide, but had not carried through for the sake of their other children. 

        But it seems, despite our occasional darkness, God always has surprises in life that await us. In the story of Jesus, just as no one anticipates an earthquake, no one – in any of the Gospels –expected what happened next.  No one says “I knew it!” or “What took you so long?” or even “Alleluia!” or “Praise the Lord!” They were like what we still are like every Easter Sunday, utterly amazed and dumbfounded, even disbelieving, of what happened next.

For all of us natural born skeptics, even on Easter Sunday, we are in good company. I find it comforting that even the Gospels do not attempt to explain Jesus resurrection, for then or now, no amount of explanation can explain the meaning and significance of Easter.  This is no zombie clawing his way out of the tomb, nor some ethereal presence living on through the power of positive thinking.  It is ambiguous enough for believers to believe, and doubters to doubt. It is not something to be explained, but believed. As the story passed from one messenger to another through the centuries, so we have our chance to hear it and believe, or not.  If we choose (or are chosen?) to believe, we – as so many before us – pass it on.  Without the faithquake called Easter, we would not be here.

But, to return to my question: have WE felt the faithquake called Easter?  Has it made a difference in our lives?

        In all four Gospels, whether by earthquake or not, there is a moment when the faithquake happens. For the women, it was when they confronted an empty tomb, an angelic messenger, and finally Jesus himself. For Peter and John, it was when they peered into the empty tomb, to see Jesus’ folded grave clothes. For Mary, in John’s Gospel, Easter began the moment the gardener said, “Mary!” and she knew who he was.

        In a moment, in an insight, in the complete change of perspective that is a faithquake, everything changed. Love had won, justice had triumphed, life had won over death, and suddenly the universe looked different. Suddenly their lives acquired meaning and mission.

In terms of meaning, what difference does it make to believe that in Jesus, God entered fully into human life – into our joys and sorrow, our hopes and disappointments, our loves and losses? What difference does it therefore make to believe that God understands? What difference does it make that God suffered death, as we do?  What difference does it make that God raised Jesus from the dead, signaling a new reality and new life that, though we cannot understand, gives us hope, even as we lose those we love, and face death ourselves? The late Henri Nouwen once said:

“The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste.  What belongs to God will never get lost – not even our mortal bodies.  The resurrection doesn’t answer any of our curious questions about life after death, such as How will it be?  How will it look?  But it does reveal to us that, indeed, love is stronger than death.  After that revelation, we must remain silent, leave the whys, how, and whens behind, and simply trust.” (Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, p. 109.)

Not only the meaning of life, but their mission became clearer also. The message from the angel was that they were to go to Galilee, and Jesus would meet them there. Galilee was the place where Jesus’ ministry had been lived out, where he gathered disciples, taught the crowds, healed the sick, appointed the twelve, showed compassion on the suffering, offered the weary rest, spoke in parables, fed the multitudes, blessed the children, challenged a rich man, and taught about a Messiah who would suffer. The point is straightforward: the risen Jesus may expected in all those places of graceful endeavor, where healing, feeding, teaching, and even suffering are undertaken in his company. (D. Cameron Murchinson, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, p. 350.)

Eugene Peterson – following a line in a poem by poet Wendell Berry – goes so far as to say that to live in such a way is to “practice resurrection.” How do we practice resurrection?  Says Peterson:

“We do this by gathering in congregations and regular worship before our life-giving God and our death-defeating Christ and our life-abounding Holy Spirit. We do it by reading, pondering, teaching, and preaching the Word of Life as it is revealed in our Scriptures. We do it by baptizing men, women, and children in the name of the Trinity, nurturing them into a resurrection life. We do it by eating the life of Jesus in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. We do it by visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, working for justice, loving our enemies, raising our children, doing our everyday work to the glory of God.” (Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, p. 54 – 55)

Let me go one step further, in illustration of the difference the faithquake of Easter can make. David Lose and Karoline Lewis are professors at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. They have put together this video, entitled, “Easter is Coming.” Take a look.  [The video may be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0c2inXKD6PI ]

Have we felt the faithquake called Easter? Thanks be to God, due to Easter, it may still be encountered in Jesus the Christ.

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