April 17, 2020
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.
Earthquakes shake things up. They shock the alert, wake those sleeping and reshape the order of things. It’s no picnic when terra firma starts moving. And so earthquakes are apt signs for God’s powerful intervention into human history.
Taken figuratively, the Good Friday and Easter earthquakes were meant to wake up the sleepers, shake up our human logic and unbalance established ways. In that sense our present pandemic is something of a biblical earthquake. It has certainly reshaped the established order of our lives, awakened a new awareness of the fragility of life and caused us to reevaluate those things that we might have thought kept us standing firmly on solid ground. The coronavirus will not leave us as we were or things as they were before. Neither should our renewed experience of the Paschal Mystery.
Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer