But 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This story begins with deep, deep heartbreak. These women who have been following Jesus for years, who have seen food multiplied and sick people healed, who have seen the religious elite and the agents of the state baffled at what to do, who had the swell of pride of marching into Jerusalem and hoping for a new way of living to finally break through, are coming to the tomb of hope. Jesus was killed in his prime, killed in his youth, killed for his message of nonviolent resistance to empire and an equal distribution of food and land. All the hopes of the movement had been placed upon his shoulders. All the hopes of liberation and a better future. All their hopes shattered to pieces on that cross, the empire’s death row.
These women, heartbroken and afraid, come to the tomb to begin the burial rites that Jesus did not receive from the state and begin the rituals that help them in their grief. This is a grief we know all too well. It is the grief that I feel like I have mentioned a thousand times. I remember preaching about “Some Good News” at the beginning of the pandemic where John Krasinski shared some heartwarming stories from his home in the midst of quarantine and how it brought me to tears. I remember preaching about the uprisings of 2020 in response to the brutal police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the deep yearning for justice in our world. I remember gathering the night of January 6 to pray and lament the insurrection that was happening at the capital. I remember all this grief and think about how it has built up and built up. We had hopes that some good news would break through, that racial justice might actually take a step forward, that new leadership might instill some sense of unity but our hopes were dashed again and again. We walk today toward the tomb with these women, grieved and grieving.
This week I stumbled upon a video of Susan Boyle’s first song for Britain’s Got Talent that launched her as an instant celebrity. Susan Boyle did not look like the typical superstar should. She was looked upon with skepticism by the judges and crowd alike until she started singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical Les Miserables. This song is the story of a young woman who had high ambitions and dreams for her life but laments the many ways that the world and society and people crushed those dreams. It is a hauntingly beautiful song and so as I started making dinner I turned this song on again and listened to some more Susan Boyle. Did she choose this song to express her own grief and longings for what her life could be? What does hope look like for her despite all the setbacks? And while I may have been playfully teased for listening to it, I was struck that this song could have easily been sung by the women at the tomb of Jesus. “But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hopes apart, And they turn your dreams to shame.”
How many dreams have we had crushed? How is it possible to hold onto hope in this world? Is it just a frame of mind like being optimistic that some people just have? Are we fooling ourselves with hope to try and pretend that our reality is not our reality? Are we wasting our lives searching out this hope through our faith and our actions? What does it mean to hold onto hope?
The women approach the tomb without hope, preparing to do the last rites for Jesus’s body and engage their grief through time honored rituals. But they experience something completely unexpected. The stone has been rolled away. Jesus is not there. Two shining people tell them to remember Jesus’s words. “What does this mean?” These women saw Jesus die and watched as he was laid in this tomb. But as those messengers’ words start to sink in, the women do begin to remember. They remember Jesus’s words, his works, his actions and a small spark of hope begins to kindle in their hearts. “Could it be?” Hope grows as they begin to walk back, then running to tell their friends the most amazing thing.
Hope sprang back more quickly than anyone could have imagined. Hope is more than just naivety because it is based on experiences. It is based on the actions of Jesus, the actions of the disciples, and the love we have felt in our communities throughout our life. It comes from the glimpses of heaven that we get to experience in this world from a dinner party with friends to the ending of an ICE contract in your juvenile detention center. These are the moments that reignite our hope and sustain us for the grief that awaits us in the world.
So today, I want to invite you into hope. You may not fully believe these women. You may be curious like Peter and want to investigate more. But I want to encourage you to hope. Let the spark grow in your heart that all can be liberated, all can be fed, all can be healthy, that justice can roll down and prisoners be set free. Let hope grow that you are worthy of being loved just as you are. Let hope grow that the world that Jesus envisioned, the hopes that we hold onto, can be realized.
Let hope grow. Because we know that in the person of Jesus; good news was shared, the hungry were fed, and the chains of the oppressed were broken. Though the state conspired to end our hope by killing him on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead and lives on in each and every one of us who follow his way. And until the day that the prophet Isaiah dreamed comes to fruition where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together,” let us be that hope to one another. Let hope grow. Amen.