“When the Earth Shakes & the Rocks Split”
Cathy Harris – Plainfield Friends Meeting –
April 5, 2020 – Matthew 21:1-11, Matthew 27:45-56, 65-66, 28:1-4
Welcome to our online worship service here at Plainfield Friends!
I am very glad you are joining us this morning.
I would just like to say that I miss all of you very much.
Technology is great! Since we can’t all be together here at the meeting house – the church – it’s a blessing to me that we can still worship God together.
This is a very difficult time, and it sounds like – moving forward – we will need to stay hunkered down for the next 2-4 weeks.
One of the things I love about the church is that when things get tough, we are there for one another. And even though we can’t physically be together this morning to worship – or be together in other ways, I am grateful we can still care for one another through prayer, phone calls, notes, emails/texts – and – that we can worship together online today.
Max Lucado just released a new book called, “Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in A Chaotic World”. I haven’t read the book yet, but I have read an article about it – and have ordered it. It seems very timely for where we now find ourselves – when our world is shaken to its core and we are all feeling a little anxious.
One of the things that Max Lucado suggests in his new book – to help us cope in anxious times is to do something he calls “CALM” – is the acronym – C.A.L.M.
C – Celebrate God’s goodness
A – Ask God for help
L – Leave our concerns with God
M – Meditate on good things
Please know that I am thinking of you, praying for you, and I can’t wait until we can get back together! Thank you for continuing to bring in boxes of cereal for the food pantry, and for your support of our Meeting.
We are offering an online Good Friday service and message – so be sure to check our website and Facebook page on Friday – as we reflect on the death of Jesus together. Then – on Sunday – we will have an online Easter service to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – and that should be available online sometime Saturday.
Let us pray together:
Dear Lord, we thank you that you are here, and today, we look to you – and turn to you. We thank you that we can trust in you. Please strengthen us, please calm us – give us peace – and we ask that you speak into our lives today.
We pray for our community, our loved ones.
We pray for those who are hurting and lonely, and we pray for those in need.
We ask that you meet us – in this moment – right where we are.
Help us – individually and as a faith community – to continue to be Your light in the world around us. Lord, be with the doctors, nurses, and emergency workers who are battling the virus on the front lines, and we ask your healing hand be on those who are sick and their loved ones. May we continue to look to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen
The scripture reading for today is longer – because I want to share with you parts of both stories – Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his death and resurrection. So – grab your Bible – and let’s get started!
Matthew 21:1-11 (Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem)
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 27:45-56 (Jesus’ Death)
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.
Matthew 27:65-66, 28:1-4
65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. 2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
Tom and I used to live north of Knightstown – out in the country – in a small housing addition called “Lake Haven”.
Our children were young at the time.
Tom and I had both gotten home from work, and I was fixing dinner.
All of a sudden, all of the windows in the house started to shake – then everything in the house was shaking. We looked at each other in disbelief – could this be an earthquake? In Indiana? – We both walked over to the dining room window and looked outside to see if there was anything we could notice outside.
And then – just as soon as it started, it stopped.
We saw our neighbors walk outside. Tom and I grabbed the kids and headed outside, too.
We were all looking around – Did you just feel that? Did your house shake, too?
Did we really just have an earthquake? Here? In Indiana?
Later we saw in the news that – indeed – we had had an earthquake right here in central Indiana.
And Tom thought later – he should have gone outside to look across the road at the lake to see if the earthquake was “shaking” the lake – to see if there were any ripples in the water.
I have heard in the news earlier this week about an earthquake in Idaho, and a couple of weeks ago, there were other earthquakes in Salt Lake City, Utah and other areas out West.
A friend of mine lives in Salt Lake City, and I asked her a couple of weeks ago about the earthquake out there. Janie said that it was her first earthquake. They lost power for a couple of hours and had hundreds of aftershocks, but they could only feel about 8 of the aftershocks.
She said that the original earthquake was a feeling of utter powerlessness like she has never felt before.
I think that’s the way many of us are feeling as we deal with the Coronavirus (the earthquake that has shaken our world) – and all of the subsequent fallout (the aftershocks) that we are dealing with – staying at home, worried about getting the virus, worried about loved ones, loss of income, dealing with fears of not having enough food, or perhaps working in the midst of the virus to care for others – or we have a loved one in the hospital or nursing home that we can’t be with – I think – like Janie’s experience of the recent earthquake in Salt Lake City – we are experiencing a feeling of utter powerlessness like we have never felt before.
In the scripture readings today – there were two earthquakes and an allusion to an event that – Matthew says – was like an earthquake. Just a few days before Jesus rides on a donkey into Jerusalem for the Passover festival, he raises his good friend, Lazarus, from the dead. Up to this point, people have been following Jesus – listening to him teach – observing him healing people and performing miracles.
I imagine anyone who saw him raise Lazarus from the dead – was intrigued – and went on to follow Jesus into Jerusalem. If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, what would he do? – what would they see? – in Jerusalem?! They wouldn’t want to have missed anything.
There was a great sense of anticipation and excitement – palpable – as they begin this journey with Jesus – they line the streets, Jesus rides in on a donkey. They remove their cloaks – their coats – and lay them on the ground before Jesus – and cut branches from palm trees and wave them.
They knew Jesus was a great prophet and teacher – a healer – and now they realize, it seems – that Jesus is the Messiah – the one they’ve been waiting for.
Surely they must have known that the religious authorities were very unhappy about Jesus, and that they were already talking about trying to get rid of him. The Jewish leaders felt threatened and the Romans weren’t thrilled with him, either.
Matthew – in this Gospel – says that when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city “was in turmoil”. The city of Jerusalem usually had a population of about 40,000. However, during Passover, there would be as many as 200,000 pilgrims crowding into the city.
The word Matthew uses to tell us that the whole city of Jerusalem was “in turmoil” – is a very strong Greek word that literally means: “was shaken” – or “trembled” – and it is the root word of “seismic” – so Matthew was telling us that the whole city of Jerusalem was in a state of turmoil of earthquake shaking proportions.
And Jesus rides on a donkey into the midst of the turmoil in Jerusalem – he rode right into the middle of an “earthquake” – things were tumultuous and unsettled. Who was this riding on a donkey? The crowd says, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee”.
And they shout “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Hosanna” is one of those rare Aramaic words we find in the Gospels – Matthew, Mark and John (not Luke) – and they are only used in connection with Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem.
“Hosanna” – this rare Aramaic word – means “save me/help me, I pray”.
Easter will not be the same for us this year – no Easter egg hunts, no large gatherings – for my family – no large family gathering/meal. It’s difficult to imagine a Palm Sunday – a Good Friday – any Easter that would compare to this year. Take a breath. Let it out. In spite of the pandemic, we still have Palm Sunday – we still have Passion Sunday – we still have Good Friday – we are living in the MIDST of Good Friday – and in spite of it all, Easter will still come – and nothing can stop Easter from breaking into our lives.
God did not cause this pandemic, as some might say. But a crisis of this nature drastically and forever is certain to clarify two things.
First, it prompts some rather serious self-reflection. Our very human instinct is to take over when we think God cannot adequately meet our expectations or when we assume that God can work in only certain ways. We like to be in control, and it’s difficult to let go and let God be God.
We have learned over the past month – could not have imagined! – that we would not be worshiping together in the Meeting House on Sundays – and could not have imagined that we could be worshiping together online in this way – and yet … God continues to work in us and through each one of us – and here we are – joining our hearts together in worship.
God’s church has survived much, this we know.
Second, a crisis that shakes our world – will often times change our perspective about things.
It makes us see what we have overlooked, taken for granted, assumed; what we have been doing as a routine without thinking much about it.
Not that we needed a wake-up call – certainly not one like this.
But – as we wait – and long – for things to return to normal, perhaps we can use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.
As a result, this shift in perspective brings us back to how the church got started in the first place and what is at the core of its identity—with Jesus, Immanuel, life as we knew it would never be the same again – that’s the way it was for the early church – that’s the way it is for us right now – nothing the same – for now.
That’s what death and resurrection does – it changes our perspective, changes our lives – helps us realize that we are not alone – Jesus is Emmanuel – God with us.
And so, the verse I am clinging to on this Palm/Passion Sunday is this: “The earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51).
For all intents and purposes, an earthquake is not good news.
We all remember the devastating earthquakes that hit Haiti several years ago – or the earthquakes and Tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.
But with all of that in mind, Matthew may very well be the good news we need here and now.
Not only did Jesus ride into Jerusalem in the midst of great turmoil – turmoil of “seismic” proportion – as Matthew writes – but Matthew also tells us of two earthquakes relating to Jesus’ death: after he died on the cross (Matthew 27:50-54) – Matthew says: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. … Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”.
And the other earthquake was when Jesus was in the tomb and the earthquake unsealed the tomb and rolled the stone away to reveal that God had conquered death and that Jesus was alive!
But – when Jesus died … the earth shook, and the rocks were split.
Initially – for Jesus’ disciples, for the many people who followed him, and had had such high hopes and expectations – initially, the cross was a crisis that shook their world.
Because before the cross became a symbol of salvation, before it became a symbol of forgiveness of sins, and before the cross became a sign of God’s sacrificial love and a symbol of a church, the cross was a crisis of unfathomable proportions – it was seismic – and the death of Jesus, in no uncertain terms, was an earthquake. “The earth shook, and the rocks were split.”
When the earth shook and the rocks split – shook everything they knew – overturned. Never to be the same again. Just as the earth has shaken us – our world – turned upside down.
The events of Good Friday and Easter morning shake the very foundations of everything once thought to be secure.
We have grown so accustomed to celebrating Easter with beautiful flowers and joyful music that we tend to forget what an unsettling, confusing, frightening day it must have been for those who first experienced these events.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (Matthew 27:55-56; 27:61), and now come to his tomb at dawn.
Matthew does not say that they came to anoint Jesus’ body for burial, but only to see the tomb.
Or is it possible that Jesus’ words about rising from the dead on the third day gave them a glimmer of hope and that they wanted to see what would happen on this morning of the third day?
In any case, it is probably safe to say that they were not prepared for what did happen.
A great earthquake shakes the ground beneath them, and an angel of the Lord descends from heaven dazzling like lightning and rolls back the stone (Matthew 28:2-3). The angel tells them not to be afraid, that Jesus is not in the tomb but has been raised, “just as he said”.
The angel invites the women to see the place where Jesus lay, then tells them to go tell the disciples that he has been raised and is going ahead of them to Galilee, and that they will see him there.
Probably still shaking, but with a promise and a message to deliver, the women leave quickly to carry out their mission “with fear and great joy”.
Then their world is rocked once again, as Jesus himself meets them on the way. The women hold onto his feet and worship him, and Jesus echoes the words of the angel in telling them not to be afraid, but to go and tell his “brothers and sisters” to go to Galilee, where they will see him.
What do we make of all of this?
The resurrection is not merely an exercise of power on God’s part.
It is that, but more importantly, it is an act of love.
It is an act of love on the part of God, who did not abandon Jesus to the grave, and God will not abandon us.
No wall of stone is large enough to keep Jesus in the tomb.
So it is with the life-giving power and love of God.
No show of force, no contingent of guards or security police can stop it.
No pandemic can stop the life-giving power and love of God.
The resurrection is an earth-shaking event.
But as Jesus himself tells us, we need not be afraid.
The earth shakes … the rocks split … our world has been shaken, and we cry out with the crowd in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: Hosanna to the Son of David! God – be with us – help us – save us!
God is with us – God holds our future and meets us and will carry us through.
Hymn for Today:
How Great Thou Art
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art.