On the first day of the week, at early dawn, [the women] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
The disciples went home amazed, but not after plenty of doubting, “Christ is risen? Nope- I don’t believe you, Mary.” I get it. The last thing the grieving disciples want to hear is someone telling them to “cheer up! Jesus didn’t really die!” “But I saw it,” Peter thinks. “I was there, I felt it too. My grief is real!”
Peter’s emotional journey reveals something we all know deep within our souls: the best hope emerges after deepest grief. I spent a lot of time with a particular friend I met in seminary during her first pregnancy. I hosted her baby shower; I so enjoyed her company and was delighted when she gave birth to a baby boy named Ben. I moved back to SD, got pregnant with Briggs shortly after she had Ben; at first we stayed in touch- so much to share! But our conversations decreased slowly over time, until we weren’t calling anymore. I didn’t know why, exactly, chalked it up to being busy moms. I found out years later that she’d experienced three miscarriages, so I reached out again, but never heard back. Turns out, she went on to suffer three more miscarriages after that- six in all. I wanted to be supportive, but didn’t know how…any of my words as a mom who hadn’t experienced that sounded like an idle tale.
How do we know the difference between good news and an idle tale-especially in the midst of grief? Peter’s response tells us that good news is only believable in the right state of mind…and heart. The process of grief is real and cannot be rushed. My friend knows it well. After each miscarriage, she got a lot of unsolicited feedback, the hardest for her to hear was this: “Cheer up! At least you have one beautiful child.” Over and over she heard this idle tale, carving more pain into her grieving heart. See, it may have been objectively true, Ben is a wonderful child, but “Cheer up!” never works when it’s said at the wrong time.
Today, hearing Jesus’ story unfold with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to be like, “duh, Peter, that’s what Jesus has been saying all along, he’s gonna rise from the dead- I know, because I heard him say it back in Luke chapter 9! Cheer up already, Jesus conquers death!” Not helpful, right?
I know you’ve been through pain too…maybe you’re grieving even today. The loss of a friend, a parent, or even a child, no one wants their grief to be minimized with a cheery little statement- and maybe Easter doesn’t feel so happy this year. Let grief take its course, don’t rush your heart. But when you sense an opening, recall this story- THE story of resurrection hope; it’s for you to claim as good news in your life too.
See, Peter’s “idle tale” turned into hope when he made the choice to run to the tomb and claim the good news for himself. No one can do that for you. The women first to the tomb doubted too, but their hearts were opened by these words, “why do you look for the living among the dead?” Good news remains an idle tale unless we claim it for ourselves–always with the help of Christ.
In Luke 18 Jesus says, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Can you believe that the impossibility you wait on might just be possible? It’s okay if you can’t at first. Life is hard to manage. Beloveds relapse back into addiction. Friends betray us. Mental illness persists. Businesses fail. Chronic pain lingers. Parents die. Children die. Families are separated by war. This is the stuff of life, and it's good to grieve.
But if there’s ever a day to claim the good news that Christ’s love is powerful enough to transform every human grief- it’s today. Friends, it’s EASTER! Jesus says, I have come so that you may have life and have it in abundance. There’s no part of life, especially the hard parts, that Jesus doesn’t know intimately, within his very being. And there’s NO part of your life outside the realm of God’s hope.
After experiencing 6 miscarriages, my friend had just about given up hope on having another child. But she and God persisted, and I received a truly hopeful Christmas card one year–news of another baby boy added to their precious family. A rainbow baby, as they say. And then a daughter. Three beautiful children who fill her life with love. Hope is not predictable- it wouldn’t be hope if it were. My own cousin shares a similar story, except without a happy ending. She remains in grief for the children she doesn’t have. I certainly have no “cheer up” speech prepared for her- or for anyone in the throes of grief.
But I do believe deep in my being that Christ is in the business of transforming idle tales into stories of redemption. And only God knows how it will unfold for you and for me. Until we have good news to claim, until that moment when we can be like the disciples walking home from an empty tomb, “amazed at what can happen,” let’s wait on it together, on behalf of one another, trusting that what is impossible for us is always possible for the God who conquered death itself.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.