Today (January 24, 2017) as I am writing these notes, there is news of yet another earthquake in Italy. It was relatively weak, only 4.1 magnitude on the Richter scale, but it triggered an avalanche that buried a hotel in a small skiing village, killing around twenty people. It barely even made the news. I had to conduct several Internet searches only one day later to get even these details.
Our exposure to earthquakes has become common these days, so much so that we may not even stop and take note or bother to pray for those who are grieving, if the numbers dead aren’t in the hundreds or more. The phenomenon of continuously “breaking news” available through twenty-four-hour cable news networks and streaming and updated print news online, has, I believe, anesthetized many of us to the devastating power of not just earthquakes, but tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires, and even terrorist attacks.
But earthquakes and other events like this, whether they take hundreds of lives or none at all, are and should continue to shock us. Events like this should shock us out of our complacency. They should knock us off balance so that when we right ourselves again, we cannot avoid acknowledging that we have been changed by coming face to face with horror, evil, and devastation. If we allow ourselves to be numbed to the pain of the world around us, then we might as well give up on the notion of discipleship altogether.
In the Bible, significant events in Jesus’ life are often marked by cosmological events. The earth and the skies confirm that he is no ordinary human being. At his birth, angels descended from the skies and sang their praises under a backdrop of a starry night. At his baptism, the heavens opened and the spirit came forth and alighted on him, accompanied by the voice of God. At his death. the sun’s light failed, even though it was three in the afternoon. And here, at the discovery of the empty tomb, it all comes together. There is an earthquake, an angel descending from heaven, and an announcement that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead!
We hear this story told every year on Easter Sunday. Has the story become so familiar to us that we are no longer shocked, changed, transformed by its power? Have we become numb to the incredible power of this testimony? Have we decided that Resurrection can be explained as something less earth shattering and life changing than it is?
I wonder if sometimes in years past I have not done just that. I have tried to explain Resurrection in terms of the steady order of God’s creation: the sun rising each morning and setting each night; the return of spring at the end of every long, dark winter; the hope inspired by the grandeur of mountains or the miracle of life itself. I have allowed myself to be numbed to the frightening, powerful, miraculous in-breaking of God’s love demonstrated in the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Well, not this year. Not ever again.
Our world is too fragile to casually dismiss or try to explain in reasonable terms the demonstration of God’s amazing love and power revealed in this extraordinary witness of the Christian faith.
On this morning—wherever we are, be it in our small towns or urban centers, in the United States and around this wide world, in the Year of our Lord 2017—as the sun breaks forth into a new day and we find ourselves standing, perplexed, before an empty tomb, we must proclaim the hope of Resurrection in the strongest terms possible.
We must claim the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead as real and true and life changing.
We must believe, deep down in our world-weary, cynical, dry and brittle bones, that our God is able to breathe life and love and hope back into any situation, no matter how difficult.
Christ is risen!
God has breathed his Spirit anew into this generation and into each of us!
Because of God’s amazing acts in Jesus Christ, death no longer has dominion over us.
Love is stronger than hate, and life is more powerful than death, and nothing, not death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38, NRSV).