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small earthquake

The Rector: A Small Earthquake in Judea?

Sunday 17 April 2022
Easter Day

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

The New Testament reading for this year’s Easter Day has been taken from St Matthew’s Gospel
And indeed, over the past three days, we have heard St Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death
From the Mount of Olives to the Empty Tomb, it is a truly remarkable story
For Jesus Christ – crucified as a common criminal – has risen from the dead
An event which changes the face of history for ever
But one of the interesting things about different Gospel accounts are the minor differences in detail
And I noticed in St Matthew’s Gospel that he makes particular reference to earthquakes
As we heard this morning, an earthquake had rolled back the stone outside the tomb
And he also records that there was an earthquake which accompanied Jesus’s death on Good Friday
Such was the magnitude of the first that the centurion said “Truly this man was God’s Son”
And after the second, the angels announced this morning, “He has been raised from the dead”

There has been much speculation about the earthquake recorded in Matthew’s Gospel

Was this a physical event?
Or an eschatological description of the death and resurrection of the Son of God?

There is ample evidence that earthquakes were prevalent in Judea during this period in history
There were recorded earthquakes in AD37, 47 and 53
And there is no reason why an earthquake could not have happened at the time of the crucifixion in AD 33 or thereabouts as recorded
Indeed, this could have been shock and after shock
Others have suggested that this was not an historic event at all but an apocalyptic description
The simple fact however is that none of us will ever know
But the one thing that we can be certain of however, is that there was seismic event on Easter Day
Physical or not, there had been an earthquake in the established order of the Universe
An earthquake so powerful that the aftershocks are felt this morning
At the time of the Roman Empire, life was cheap
Enormous quantities of human life were expendable and unimportant
And those who fell victim to such a regime simply disappeared
Jesus, the common criminal, crucified amongst thieves was, potentially, another such casualty
Tried without proper process, executed with great barbarity, his body, no doubt, destined to be thrown into a pit
His memory obliterated for ever – except that it wasn’t
For instead of disappearing as a “common criminal” he is, instead, brought back into the world
And the message is very powerful indeed
Because if God can raise someone who has been through the dehumanising process of a State execution
Then human value and dignity can no longer be extinguished by violence and death
In short, no one is forgotten

During our time in the Southern Hemisphere, we spent a memorable week in Santiago in Chile
We loved the city, which had a wonderful vibrancy, energy and freshness from the mountains
But any journey to another country necessarily embroils you in its history and we became fascinated by Chile’s recent political past
Particularly, the rise of Salvador Allende and the subsequent military coup of General Pinochet
One of our most moving trips in Santiago was visit the “Museum of Memory and Human Rights”
The museum was opened in 2010 and dedicated to the victims of Pinochet’s regime
The museum ensures that the memory of the 3000 or so “disappeared” are preserved as well as the of victims of torture
It is interesting that the Museum is called the Museum of Memory as the museum obviously keeps this memory alive
But, it is not just about memory, it is also testament to the Christian faith
Because/as we are reminded at Easter/ as a result of Christ’s Resurrection,
We are all subsequently conferred with the dignity of His risen life –
Which means that none one of us is forgotten
The journalist Alistair Horne wrote a book about these events which he called “A small earthquake in Chile”
An earthquake which, like the Resurrection itself, we can still feel to this day

I used to give thanks that we didn’t live in a regime where such atrocities are common place
But, less we forget, on this Easter morning, such barbarity is only three hours away by plane
And we find ourselves with another war in Europe
Watching the Russians continue to attack Ukraine and commit acts of unspeakable barbarism
The slaughter of innocent men, women and children
The targeting of civilian objects such as hospitals, theatres and railway stations
Accompanied by the biggest displacement of people in Europe since World War Two
The recent Russian retreat from Kiev has left behind a trail of almost unspeakable cruelty
From the use of rape as a weapon of war
To the execution of innocent men, women and children, who were then thrown into a pit as if they were common criminals
But they are not
And what is more, they are not forgotten either
As Christ’s death and Resurrection tells us, human value cannot be extinguished by violence and death – such is the triumph of the cross and Resurrection

And so on this Easter Day
When, once again, we proclaim the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ
I would ask you, this year, to think about the earthquake which accompanied the event
And earthquake which can still be felt to this day and which changed the established order in the Universe
Feel the tremor in your bones
Or/ as you watch bodies being exhumed on your television
Remember that, above all, as a result of Christ’s resurrection, we are all conferred with the dignity of His risen life
And so today, on this Easter Sunday in 2022,
We join with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and across the world
And proclaim the Resurrection of Jesus Christ together by saying “Khrystos Voskes”