The World-Shaking Promise of Easter

Apr 09, 2023

Sermon 4-9-23

The Resurrection of Our Lord

Text: Matthew 28:1-10

Pastor Jean M. Hansen



     I’ve never been in an earthquake, have you? Well…I take that back; some years ago there was a notable earthquake in Northeast Ohio. But, since I did not notice it (I think I was driving) or know about it until after the fact, that really doesn’t count.

     In a recent edition of “Living Lutheran”, Lisa Smith writes about being in a 7.1 earthquake in Alaska in 2018. She describes being downstairs in her home, making breakfast for her children, when the shaking started. Her 2-year-old was with her, but the 5-year-old was upstairs alone and started screaming. As she tried to get to her child, although the shaking made it difficult to walk, bookshelves flung their contents; photos sailed off the mantle and she was filled with terror. A massive chandelier was swinging above her head, and she saw the folly of climbing the stairs under it while holding a toddler. Glass shattered upstairs as a wall-mounted bathroom mirror shattered and her 5-year-old was still screaming.

     After less than a minute of shaking, which she said felt like an hour, everything was still. The good news was that her child was safe on his bedroom floor; Lisa felt the unique experience of joy and terror simultaneously. She surmises that the two Marys in today’s Gospel lesson experienced that same feeling as they encountered an earthquake and good news on that first Easter morning. (1)

      Did you notice the earthquakes in Matthew’s account? Last week we noted the use of the Greek word, from which we get the English word for seismic, in Matthew; it is used about Jerusalem when Jesus enters the city to shouts of “Hosanna”; the city is shaken. We see it again during the crucifixion when there is a stone-splitting earthquake and twice in today’s reading. We read that the women arrived at the tomb expecting to prepare Jesus’ lifeless body for final entombment, and there is a great earthquake – perhaps a #7 or higher?

     The text seems to imply that it is caused by the angel of the Lord descending from heaven, who rolled back the stone and sat on it. So … was it the angel’s landing or the rolling of the stone or the sitting on the rock that caused the earth to shake? Whatever the case, the guards took one look at the glowing heavenly beings and were shaken (there is that word again) into a coma-like state.

     Then, I’m guessing, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary began to shake even though (or perhaps because) the angel told them not to be afraid; the tomb was empty and they were told that Jesus had been raised. That is just the beginning of a “whole lot of shaking goin’ on” because, to quote Methodist Bishop William H. Willimon, “Easter is an earthquake that shook the whole world.”

     At our preschool this week I tried to think of a way to explain Holy Week to the children and ended up saying that it is a special week that is all about Jesus; our focus is on Jesus. I do not know if they understood, but I’ll expand my explanation today and say that if Holy Week is all about Jesus, then Easter is all about God. Let me quote Bishop Willimon, “Easter is about God. It is not about the resuscitation of a dead body. That’s resuscitation, not resurrection. It’s not about the ‘immortality of the soul’, some divine spark that endures after the end. That’s Plato, no Jesus. It’s about God; not God as an empathetic but ineffective good friend, or some inner experience, but God who creates a way when there is no way, a good who makes war on evil until evil is undone, a God who raises dead Jesus just to show us who is in charge here. On the cross the world did all it could to Jesus. At Easter, God did all God could the world. And the earth shook.” (2)

     The world shook because death no longer has the final word. Our world is not lacking in earth-quake-like events – illness, broken relationships, unmet needs, loss, pain and, of course, death and the suffering they cause. However, we sometimes are fortunate to see the truth that death does not have the final word illustrated in the here and now, not just in the life that extends beyond this one.

     Speaking of earthquakes, you no doubt remember that the ground shook in a terrible way in Turkey and Syria just a few months ago, killing more than 50,000 people. One of the miracles of that horrific event was that a baby girl, only one and one-half months old, was rescued after being buried under the rubble for 128 hours. It was thought that her mother had died in the earthquake and the infant was placed in state care; she was called Gizem, which means mystery in Turkish. 

     Amazingly, after a family member approached officials and a DNA test was done, it was discovered that a woman still hospitalized for her injuries is the baby’s mother and they were reunited this past week after 54 days apart. They are the only survivors from their family; two sons and the woman’s husband died in the earthquake.

     Perhaps you saw the reunion on the news, as I did. As the 3-month-old baby girl was placed in her mother’s arms, she engulfed the little one with her whole self, and it seemed as if the baby was making infant sounds of joy. I’m sure that scene brought a tear to more than a few eyes, including my own. It’s a glimpse of our promised future; life triumphs over death.

     There’s a line in today’s Easter account that would be easy to overlook. After telling the women not to be afraid, that they are at the correct tomb (“I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified”), the angel makes the astounding statement that Jesus has been raised and invites them to come on in and check it out. It’s their job, the angel says, to tell the disciples the good news, and then comes the sentence we may overlook.

     The angel says, “This is my message for you.” It is FOR YOU…FOR YOU. They discover the profound truth of that statement as they run with fear and great joy to tell the disciples and encounter the risen Jesus. He is FOR YOU!

     It is God’s message for us as well … in the midst of the earthquakes of life our living Lord is for us, with us…and it is our job to tell others how we have met him in unexpected places and ways. As impossible as it seems, we can be touched by both fear and joy simultaneously; death does not have the final word. That is the promise of Easter that continues to shake the whole world.  AMEN


  1. “Quakes, Fear and Joy” by Lisa A. Smith, “Living Lutheran”, March/April 2023, pgs. 14-15
  2. “Easter as an Earthquake” by William H. Willimon, Matthew 28:1-10, April 4, 1999, www.