“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Luke 24:11
Like many of you, I grew up with Sesame Street. I loved all the people in that neighborhood – the puppets and the humans. I loved singing the rubber ducky song while Ernie played in the bathtub. I loved the crazy way that the Cookie Monster ate those cookies – crumbs going everywhere. I loved Mr. Hooper’s store, and I was heartbroken when Mr. Hooper died – even though by then I was 12 years old.
Here’s what I didn’t love. Do you remember Mr. Snuffleupagus?[i] He was a friend of Big Bird’s and looked like a giant hairy anteater. I liked him just fine. What I didn’t like was that no one else believed that Mr. Snuffleupagus was real. Big Bird would talk about his friend, but Mr. Snuffleupagus would conveniently disappear whenever anyone else came close to running into him. No matter how much Big Bird insisted that his friend was really there, no one believed him.
Whenever someone would miss seeing Mr. Snuffleupagus, I would be filled with the kind of righteous anger that only children can have. “He’s right there!” I would sometimes yell at the television. “He’s right there!” It killed me that no one would believe Big Bird.
This week as I pondered our Easter gospel from Luke, I felt that old indignation rising up in me. The women have a powerful story to tell. They show up at dawn prepared to anoint the body of Jesus. And instead of a body they find an open tomb. Stone rolled away. No sign of Jesus anywhere. Two men in dazzling clothes appear out of nowhere and stand beside them, saying: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
They are perplexed. They are terrified. They are overwhelmed.
So they do what seems natural. They go and tell other people what they’ve experienced. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, another Mary, other unnamed women – they go and tell their story to the only other people they think will understand – the men who have also followed Jesus.
And how is their story received? “These words seemed to the others an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” “Idle tale” is a gentle translation. It means more like “nonsense,” “B.S.,” “foolishness.” The root of that word is where we get our word delirium. Those guys hear the story of the women as a bunch of crazy talk, foolish nonsense.
These men – who were not at the tomb because they had fled in fear – did not believe the women – who showed up in the face of death to do what had to be done.
The men – who would later have their own stories to tell – did not believe the women – who were already telling their story.
The men – who faltered – did not believe the women – who followed, even to the end.
Peter at least has the decency to run to the tomb himself, and he comes back amazed. But we don’t hear anyone apologizing to the women for not believing their story.
If you think back to Christmas time, you’ll remember that Luke’s whole gospel begins with people being told incredible stories. Young Mary is told by an angel that she will be the mother of Jesus, even though she is young and unmarried. She asks some questions: “How can this be?” But she says to God, “Here I am…Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary believes the story.
Mary runs to tell her relative Elizabeth, who immediately says to Mary: “Blessed are you among women.” Elizabeth believes the story.
Remember those shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night? They get a sky full of angels telling them a crazy story about a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger. And they go to find that baby. The shepherds believe the story. And they go and tell other people about what they’ve seen and heard.
Jesus told his followers how the story would go. Those two men in the empty tomb remind the women: “Remember how he told you…that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” That’s what helps the women remember the story – and then go to tell the others.
What is your story? What is your story of brokenness or despair?
I know you have one. Probably more than one. A story of grief or worry. A story of unresolved conflict. A fracturing of your family. The fracturing of our country and our world.
And what is your story of resurrection? Of hope in the face of fear, of life in the midst of death? It’s still being written, but there’s something that has been holding you up in the midst of that brokenness. The prayers of friends. The people who feed you when you’re hungry. The belief that the next chapter will somehow be better. The folks who make you laugh. The texts that come right when you’re at the end of your rope. The song that makes you smile.
What’s keeping you from telling that story? Maybe you’re afraid to tell your story because you’re pretty sure other people will think it’s nonsense. Foolishness, an idle tale. Mr. Snuffleupagus all over again.
But our stories are part of God’s story. God’s story is vast enough to hold all of it – the worry and the wonder, the desperation and the inspiration, the times we are barely hanging on and the times when we are reaching out to help someone else.
God’s story of resurrection is big enough for any story we can offer up. God brings new life to the broken places. God promises that the powers of death and grief and loss will not be the final words of our stories.
Yesterday as I held little baby Beadle – only hours old, still blinking her way into the world outside the womb – I was overcome by a sense of awe at what God can do. Her story is just beginning. Her story – like yours and like mine – is part of God’s story. A story of the gift of grace that sets us free from all of the death-dealing forces that threaten us.
Let’s tell our stories. Let’s tell God’s story. And let’s believe each other when we do.
It is not an idle tale. It is everything. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ