In Matthew 27:51 we are told that at the point when Jesus died, that the curtain in the Temple that separated off the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. It was a solid thick curtain and that with the fact that the rip was top down pointed to the truth that this was no human intervention. Rather, God was acting to show that the dividing wall of hostility had been broken down by him. God was stepping in to our world to reconcile us to himself.
We often pay attention to that symbolic event in the Easter narrative but we also tend to skip over what comes next. In v 51b – 54 we are told that this event was accompanied by an earthquake which caused tombs to open up. Instead of spilling out rotten corpses, skeletons and bones however, Matthew tells us that raised up people came out and appeared to many. It seems that this was a temporary phenomenon but the impact was enough to cause the centurion at the crucifixion to declare Jesus to be “The Son of (a) God.”
We tend to skip past that bit because it’s a bit weird and we are not sure what to do with it. Apologetically it’s difficult to evidence. I suspect that as with many things it will have quickly have been written off as hysteria, even at the time. Yet, perhaps its very “weirdness” should cause us to stop and think about it instead of rushing on.
Whether or not we are able to explain or get to grips with the account, I think the key point is this. Here in the earthquake and the tombs opening, we get a little foretaste of what is to come, a day is coming when all the tombs will open and the dead will be raised, permanently. The crucifixion Is essential to that day coming and so here, at the cross, we see a little glimpse of that future resurrection day beginning to break through.
The passage points us forward with hope and encourages us to look forward. The risen Lord Jesus will return and the dead will be raised either to final and eternal inheritance of final and eternal judgement. Easter gives us the opportunity to look back with gratitude for God’s grace to us but also forward with hope to Christ’s joyful return.