This Easter, Matthew’s story of the empty tomb was the Gospel for the Vigil and an option for Easter Sunday Masses. We learn that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first to hear the good news of the Resurrection and to encounter the person of the Risen Lord. There is a detail that Matthew alone includes in his resurrection narrative – a detail that is easily overlooked as our attention is riveted on the Risen One. Only Matthew mentions that the two Mary’s witnessed a “great earthquake” at the moment when the stone was rolled back and the angel descended with the good news of Easter.
In the previous chapter Matthew states that the moment of our Lord’s death on the cross was accompanied by an earthquake – a sign that led the centurion to admit: “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Earthquakes occur elsewhere in the New Testament. While Paul and Silas are doing jail time in Philippi, there was an earthquake at midnight and the prison doors opened and their chains loosened. In Revelation earthquakes are mentioned five times, always as apocalyptic signs of the end times.