These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb.
Yesterday morning, a good dozen of us gathered outside in the memorial garden to say prayers on Holy Saturday. We stood over gravestones remembering those we love and see no more. It felt right to be there, outside under a blue sky with the birds and the bees getting ready for Easter Sunday in a garden of memory.
Two roses in full-blown blossom kept company with us. I spied a pair Georgia Bulldogs, too, engraved in stone, their red caps bright as the roses.
We sang, Morning has broken and blackbird has spoken; and overhead, high in the trees, an old crow cawed, “Tomorrow, tomorrow.”
Today is that tomorrow, and Easter is come again: a hidden tomorrow in all our days. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear that women came to the tomb, and found it empty; that a pair of angels (two men in dazzling clothes) told them why and how they remembered the words of Jesus and told the disciples what they knew, and that Peter heard them and ran to see for himself.
When those ancient women came to the tomb, they came ready to attend death, and found themselves suddenly useless, their spices irrelevant. They came looking for Jesus and found something else entirely: a stone rolled away and an empty tomb.
Yet somehow that nothing they found, that confusion they felt, became everything they needed. The pair of angels were there to remind them that this emptiness was something Jesus prepared them for. Hey, the angels said, it’s like he said it’d be, remember.
And feeling useful again, they left, and became the first to try and talk about Easter. If Peter is any measure, they succeeded, because right off he ran to the tomb. Only later would people say he was competing, aiming to be first. I’m guessing, at the time, the women understood why he ran. They knew his grief.
Easter is not an easy reality to talk about, but that’s the challenge the gospels give us. I like to think Easter plants the Resurrection of Jesus in your hearts, there like a seed you’re to nurture from day to day, allowing it to grow into the fullness of God’s eternal love for you.
But still, the gospels ask you to remember and tell. And so we try, each of us in our own way.
Back in the 1930s, a Frenchman named Louis Charbonneau-Lassay began to study the way earlier believers set out to tell the story of Jesus. He loved old muddy moldy things long forgotten, and trudged his way through old churches and museums, through the dust and mud of holy places, and made hundreds of woodblock carvings of the images he saw.
Among the apostles and angels with their round halo crowns, he found everyday horses and sheep and birds and rabbits. Lions and tigers and bears, all there: lively figures engraved on the stony walls of churches, like bulldogs in bright red caps.
Everyday life is what the Church used (and uses) to illustrate the words of angels and the hope of eternity. Apparently, early believers had a way of seeing Jesus eastering in the everyday things of this world. In the way we too look for him eastering in our own lives.
The world as it is – the world you can feel and taste and see and smell and hear– is what you have to work with when you try your feeble best to proclaim the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Which is to say, Easter lands you in the same old pair of muddy shoes Louis put on.
Our Easter traditions want to express the angelic proclamation of risen life and fall back instead on the same old things of this world: birds and bunnies, chickens and eggs, butterflies in flight, herons on the marsh. These things, too, are signs of Easter. Now the green blade rises. Now the cross flowers.
When Peter runs to the tomb in the gospels, it’s tempting to agree with those who say he’s trying to win a race or aiming to prove himself once again. But, in my heart of hearts, I know that’s not what Peter’s up to. You see, I think he needs the risen Lord more than anyone in our gospel today. It’s why he’s the only one who gets up and runs toward the tomb in Luke’s gospel.
I think he feels the weight of his denials, and knows he wounded the heart of his friend Jesus when he ran away from him. I’m guessing he can’t bear it, has spent every hour since crying for mercy, begging for another chance, hoping for a way to undo what he did to his friend.
That’s why Peter runs. He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s long past that. He’s trying to believe what the women told him. He wants it with all his heart because he’s hoping beyond hope to see his friend again. And so rather than run away, hope finds him on the run toward the risen Lord Jesus.
A real and living hope is what the Resurrection gave the women who came to the tomb, and what it gave Peter as he ran toward his deepest hope.
St. Augustine of Hippo knew Easter as a mystery full of hope, the hidden beat in every heart. And about the chickens, he had this to say, Hope “can be compared to the egg. For hope has not reached its goal; likewise the egg is something, but it is not yet the chicken.”
Easter gives you the muddy shoes of this world, but it also gives you a basket of eggs: a basket of hope to live by. Hope for tomorrow. Hope that we will see again all we have lost. Hope that we will see Jesus our Risen Lord and savior.
Jesus is risen from the tomb. He has come through death to life again. And every cell in your body, every beat in your heart, should tremble with the knowledge of that amazing gift. He is risen, the Lord is risen. It’s what he’s told you he would be. Alleluia..
Above illustration of a lion by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay in The Bestiary of Christ,