Beckett: Sermon – The Epicentre of the Passion (Easter 2023)

Date: April 9, 2023
Festival: The Resurrection of Our Lord
Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Acts 10:34-43; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10
Sermon Hymn: LSB #457 Jesus Christ Is Risen Today

Alleluia! Christ is risen! {He is risen indeed! Alleluia!}

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what was the strongest earthquake you’ve ever felt? We’re quite fortunate here in Michigan not to experience very many earthquakes, and when we do, they’re extremely rare and they’re quite small, but maybe some of you have experienced an earthquake somewhere. In California, they’re quite accustomed to them, but here it would shock us if there were an earthquake. I remember when I was a kid, my grampa was describing to me an earthquake he felt somewhere in southeast Michigan. {Motion it} He thought someone had grabbed the back of his office chair and was shaking it a lot as a hoke, but when he turned around there was no one there. That’s when he realised it was an earthquake, which the news reports would later confirm.

I remember another time when I was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, I was in the barracks, and suddenly {motion} the whole building just started moving like God had just grabbed the ground like a sheet of paper and started sliding it in unpredictable directions. It wasn’t a great earthquake; it was quite docile, and nothing was destroyed and nobody harmed.

Now, there was a great earthquake at Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” presumably the mother of James and Joseph, were simply on their way to Jesus’ tomb. But then, all of a sudden, a great earthquake happened! Imagine their fear! They’re just walking along, possibly still in mourning, when a great earthquake happens. Even the guards standing at Jesus’ tomb were terrified, because they “trembled and became like dead men.” Not because of the earthquake, but because of the angel who appeared. More terrifying than the great earthquake was the visitation of this angel. Understand, these were men of war who are used to witnessing the gore of battle and the horrors of what men can do to other men, yet they faint at the sight of an angel! That’s how terrifying it was.

An earthquake had occurred on Good Friday, too. When Jesus died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split” [Matt. 27:51].

Whether or not you’ve experienced an earthquake, we all know how destructive and terrifying they can be. Even the aftershocks can be just as devastating, and the epicentre is the worst place you’d wanna be. The largest earthquake recorded in American was the Great Alaska earthquake on March 27, 1964, that registered at 9.2 on the Richter scale, killing 115 people. If you know your history, it is also known as the Good Friday Earthquake because, as the name suggests, it occurred on Good Friday that year. Some of you might also remember the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of Japan in 2011, which registered at 9.1 on the Richter scale and killed 19,759 people, with 6,242 injured, and 2,553 missing. I remember it quite well. I was stationed in South Korea at the time and although we were far enough away from its devastating effects and the aftershocks, it was still enough to knock out our entire internet for several days, which affected our military operations.

Earthquakes, like many other natural disasters, remind us there is something inherently wrong with the world. Something just isn’t right. In Romans 8[:18-23], Paul would describe this as the groaning of creation because of its bondage to corruption, eagerly awaiting “the revealing of the sons of God,” meaning the bodily resurrection and the new creation when Jesus returns. Creation groans with us in our own longing for everything to be put right. And when and earthquake happens, it is a stark reminder of just how wrong things are and how sin has shaken up everything in the world, which has its own destructive aftershocks. One lie leads to another until you can’t remember them all and finally, you’re caught red-handed. Without wise intervention, one bad decision leads to another until it all comes crumbling down. Maybe you feel that way right now, that no matter the choices you make or how many times you repent of that particular sin, the aftershocks keep reverberating more and more throughout your life that you’re just waiting for it to all come crumbling down because you are the epicentre of your own suffering.

The earthquake on Good Friday was the starkest reminder that things are not right in the world. When Jesus cried out “with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit… the curtain of the temple was torn in two. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split” [Matt. 27:50-51]. Something was not right. The earth itself could hardly take it: the death of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. Something is so wrong that God the Son had to become human and die. How wrong and messed up must we be that in order to save us, God must die?

Yet the aftershock of that earthquake was not what we might expect. Instead of hundreds or thousands of people dying, Matthew writes just a chapter earlier, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” [27:52]. Then another earthquake happened two days later, on Sunday, and this one was greater than the First. Only this time, something was not wrong. This time, something is right. For the angel says, “He is not here, for He has risen!” This had aftershocks too, as Matthew writes, “and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, [those who were raised] went into the holy city and appeared to many” [27:53]. Brothers and sisters, the cross is the epicentre of Christ’s Passion, and the power of His death and resurrection continues to rumble throughout the earth in all human history!

Each of you have felt its aftershock in your Baptism, which Paul writes that you were crucified with Jesus and will share in a resurrection just like His [Rom. 6:1-6]. Every time you see a baby baptised here at the font, you witness the aftershock of His resurrection where He gives the free gift of eternal life [Rom. 6:23b].

As modern people, we know through the study of seismology that earthquakes are the friction between tectonic plates. But in Scripture, earthquakes often—not always, but often—indicate that God is speaking. For example, when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, God spoke and the whole mountain trembled greatly [Ex. 19:18]. When Korah rebelled against Moses, after God was done speaking against the rebels, “the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up” [Num. 16:31-32]. A psalm of David describes the earth and mountains shaking simply because of God’s anger [Ps. 18:7]. When Jesus shouted at the moment of His death, and earthquake tore the Temple in two.

So, when Jesus rose from the dead, I wonder if the earthquake was so great because just as Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come out” [John 11:43], perhaps God the Father said something along the lines of, “Jesus, My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, come out!” And there was a great rumbling of the earth because the resurrection of the Son of God shook the very fabric of the universe that had not devastating aftershocks, but ones that revivify and give life to all those who believe and are baptised into His death and resurrection!

You may not even realise it, but we feel those aftershocks here at Zion and CTK every day. Every time a baby is baptised, the kingdom of the devil is shaken further into total collapse. Every time a preschooler hears about Jesus, the life of His resurrection is breaking ground in them. Every time one of our youth learns more about Jesus, the aftershock of His resurrection continues to resound through them. Every time a youth or college or international student is confirmed in the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus causes the foundations of the devil’s kingdom to tremble once again. Every time you hear the words of Absolution, whether here publicly or privately in one of your pastors’ offices, and every time you receive the Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of Christ rumbles through your bones and shakes new life within you as He brings you out of the tomb of your sin and into the gift of His eternal life.

These aftershocks will continue until they finally come to a stop when, as we heard from Paul this morning, “Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” [Col. 3:4]. The life of the resurrection of Christ is shaking throughout all the earth, every baptismal font the epicentre where we are crucified with Christ, until He comes in glory to bring the final aftershock of the resurrection of the dead to bring you and all the saints into eternal life and the holy city of New Jerusalem—the kingdom of God that shall never crumble.

To Christ belongs all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.


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