Do you remember where you were on Aug. 23, 2011?
I was working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in downtown Harrisburg. At first the day was no different than any other day, but around 2 p.m. things just didn’t seem right. I can’t fully explain the panic that came across me as I thought I was feeling the building move. At first I thought I was it was my imagination.
Suddenly I knew I didn’t want to be in the building, and I wasn’t alone. We headed for the stairwell and rushed outside. By the time we congregated, we heard the news: There had been a 5.8-magnitude earthquake around Mineral, Virginia, just over 200 miles to the south.
Matthew 28 begins with a violent earthquake as the women were gathering at the tomb of Jesus to care for his body. What went through their minds? Where is he? Did someone take him? Maybe they felt sick to their stomachs, or light-headed. Maybe they were confused and afraid.
But the angel said, “Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there'” (Matthew 28:7, CEB).
Matthew says that they ran — with “great fear and excitement” — to deliver the message to the eleven. He wasn’t there! There was an earthquake . . . did you feel it? And this angel who rolled the stone away from the tomb told us to look for ourselves to see that Jesus wasn’t there.
Then Jesus himself “met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him” (v. 9). He said to tell the others he will meet them in Galilee.
Off they went, full of joy as they exclaim to the disciples: He did it! He isn’t dead. And . . . we saw him! Touched him! Held onto him for dear life. He told us to tell you he’ll meet you in Galilee. You can’t stay here hidden, you must go and meet him. He’ll be there!
Some of the disciples went to the tomb to see for themselves, according to other Gospel accounts. They just couldn’t comprehend what the women were telling them.
Why didn’t they believe them? Why didn’t they have faith?
Why don’t we? Do we continue to stare into an empty tomb?
What Jesus did in those three days was revolutionary! He conquered death. The fear of death is gone; the hope for eternal life is now what we wait for. “Do not be afraid!” the angel said. “Do not be afraid!” Christ said. Our relationship with a risen Savior gives us assurance that we no longer need to fear death. The mystery is still there; we have no way of truly understanding physical death until we go through it, but we do not need to fear it.
He took on our sins so that we would have a way to reconcile ourselves back to God without sacrifice. Without burnt offerings. Without priestly intercession. We have been given the Holy Spirit—God not only with us but in us. That is worth running with excitement to share with others!
When I felt the tremors 10 years ago, I couldn’t get out of that building fast enough. When the women learned that Jesus was alive, they couldn’t get to the disciples fast enough.
Are we ready to stop being afraid? Afraid of congregations leaving? Of the dwindling size of the denomination here in the United States? Are we ready to run from emptiness and move forward in faith knowing that “he who is in me is greater than he who is in the world”?
Let us run with joy to tell our neighbors the good news of Jesus!
Traci Rabenstein is director of mission advancement for the Church of the Brethren.