A newly appointed young preacher was contacted by the local funeral director to hold a graveside service at a small country cemetery. There was to be no funeral, just the committal, because the deceased had no family or friends left. The young pastor started early to the cemetery, but soon lost his way. After making several wrong turns, he finally arrived a half-hour late. The hearse was no where in sight, and the workman were relaxing under a nearby tree, eating their lunch. The pastor went to the open grave and found that the vault lid was already in place. He took out his book and read the service. As he returned to his car, he overheard one of the workman say, “Maybe we’d better tell him that’s a septic tank.”
Something happened on Easter Day which made Christ more alive on the streets of Jerusalem forty days after his crucifixion than on the day of His Triumphal Entry. A false report might last forty days but the church which was founded on a Risen Christ has lasted for twenty centuries, producing generations of the race’s finest characters. There is a grave in Germany sealed with a granite slab and bound with strong chains. On it an atheist had inscribed, “Not to be opened throughout eternity.” Yet somehow a little acorn had fallen into some crack, and its outer shell “died.” Years after, everyone saw a huge oak tree which had completely broken up the slab, still having the inscribed arrogant words. The new life of the acorn had openly displayed the power of life. All that death can do, it did to Christ. Our Lord felt the chill of it. He died alone. But He did for us what we are not able to do for our loved ones . . . He explored the basements of death to the very bottom . . . and came back to tell us to be of good cheer.
When we look at Matthew’s account we focus upon that great stone that the soldiers had placed in front of the tomb of Jesus. That was the women’s main concern. Who will roll away the stone for us? To their amazement, the stone that was very large has been rolled away. That stone symbolizes the finality of the death of Jesus, the massiveness of the stone is like the massiveness of the death of Jesus that confronts the women at the cemetery. The stone is so great it can only be rolled away by some higher power.
That great power comes in the form of an earthquake, Matthew’s unique contribution to the Easter story. The earthquake signifies that the resurrection is not something private and personal with Jesus. The earth shaking signifies the cosmic, earth and heaven shaking significance of the event. Easter is large, cosmic, demanding upon our imaginations. “Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.”
John says that they got to the tomb on Easter morning and it was empty.
Then, they went back home. Reminds you of the two disciples in Luke on the way to Emmaus. “Some women told us that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but we had already planned to have supper over in Emmaus, so we couldn’t change our reservations.” A man is raised from the dead and you can’t cancel lunch? Easter is an earthquake with doors shaken off tombs and dead people walking the streets, the stone rolled away by the ruckus and an imprudent angel sitting on it.
A new world was thereby offered to us. Jesus came back to forgive the very disciples who had forsaken him. The world is about forgiveness, as it turns out, not vengeance. And the earth shook. Jesus picked up a piece of bread and ate it and you could see the nail prints in his hands. The world is about life, as it turns out, not death. And the earth shook.
People are forever saying, “I could believe in the resurrection, but where is the evidence?” Well, the best evidence for Easter is the existence of the church, that body of people gathered together. There are ten other resurrections in the Bible! Elijah restore life to a boy whose mother is a widow. Elisha restore life to the Shunammite’s son. An unnamed dead man’s body is thrown in the tomb of Elisha. Ezekiel watched life come to a valley of dry bones. Jesus heals the widow of Nain’s son, Lazarus, Ruler’s daughter, Holy people in the tombs of Jerusalem. Peter raised Tabitha in Lydda. Paul raised Eutychus.
If it happened once? It has happened at least 11 times in the Bible. Who knows how many times it has really happened? The Easter lily is the floral symbol of Easter because its shape resembles a trumpet that heralds the resurrection of Jesus Christ.