The Seventh Station in artist Keaton Sapp’s series, “The Stations of the Cross” is titled, “The Earth Shook” and is based on Matthew 27:51-61. The passage reads,
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
A number of details are present to convince us of the death of Jesus. The centurion’s confession, the women named by Matthew who were eye witnesses of his death and burial, and the identification of Joseph of Arimathea as the one who secured Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb — all are intended to convince us of Jesus’ death. That Jesus died and continued under the power of death for a time shows us the extent of his humiliation. Jesus is not merely one who preached the Beatitudes, but he is the one who embodied them. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the mourners. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness. Jesus is all of these, and they point to his identity.
Jesus is not merely identified in the qualities of his character or the wisdom of his teaching. His death, of which we read and are confirmed in verifying is not merely the untimely end of one who is so virtuous. His death was not marked by a whimper, but a concussion. Now in one sense, the smallness of Jesus’ death is real. His crucifixion was hardly noted: a few women and a bored centurion. But here in Matthew Jesus’ death is marked a bit differently. When the one who is the Word made flesh, who is wisdom personified, who is rest dies, his death has a physical, concrete impact in the world: the curtain is torn, the earth shakes, the dead rise. The impact crater of the death of Jesus, shakes the very foundations of creation. Boom!
We are left asking on Good Friday, What can rise from that? We are left to do the only thing we can do: wait. In that waiting, God asks us, Son of man, can these bones live?