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Easter Sunday 2015: Alleluia, run to Jesus!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

I've always loved the motion in this scene, where Peter and the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb of Jesus (John 20:1-9).

Mary Magdalene has just run to tell them: 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Something must have happened – but what? Dumbfounded, they simply had to run and see for themselves. Was this a desperate dash in a panic, fearing some further ignominy had been inflicted on the body of Jesus? Or was there a hint in their minds of some other tantalising possibility…? Either way, we can sense the sheer thrill of running. And what is so moving is the ordinary human dimension: the fact that the Beloved Disciple runs faster than Peter and gets there first. Yes, that says it all: they sprinted as fast as they could, they had to see as soon as possible. No time to wait for the slowcoaches to catch up! A moment of complete physical exertion and racing hearts, a trial of exhaustion and expectation. For this moment, they seem to forget everything, ignore everything, focus their entire being on answering this one pressing question: where on earth is Jesus?

Running can be one of the most pleasurable activities – think of the simple delight and elegance in the opening scene of Chariots of Fire, when the athletes are running along the beach. But running can also be tough and painful. For many of us, I suspect I need only refer to 'cross country' runs at school to conjure up distant nightmare scenarios of mud, aching stitches, and ridiculously steep slopes (oh, the cruelty!). I recently told someone that I was running a pilgrimage to Canterbury this summer, by which I meant I am organising the Dominican Way youth pilgrimage. 'Wow! How far is that?" they asked. 'We start at Arundel so it's about 120 miles', I replied. The look of admiring incredulity on their face lasted only a moment before I reassured them that it is only a walking pilgrimage. Speaking of which, some people do run impressive distances: see here and here for two marathons raising money for Dominican causes.

Running can make you feel brilliantly alive – the body exerts itself to an extreme degree and achieves an extraordinary motion of muscles and coordinated breathing. It is amazing that some top sprinters can run 100 metres in under 10 seconds, and that the best marathon runners complete 26 miles in barely 2 hours. But, on the other hand, we are all too well aware that many people cannot run: they may be too old, or too young; unwell or unfit or in some other way unable. And even those who are physically able to run may find it tiring or painful just to think about it...

You may be relieved, then, that running is not the essential message of Easter. The essential message of Easter is the real Good News: that ‘God raised Jesus on the third day and made him manifest…[and] every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name’ (Acts 10:40, 43). Jesus himself spoke of the 'Good News' when he preached in the synagogue on the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord 
(Luke 4:18-19; Is. 61:1-2).

If you understand and believe this Good News, then you will want to run and tell everyone about it. And if you don’t yet understand or believe, then the metaphor of running may still help you understand the Easter event. St Paul tells us to run to obtain the ‘prize’ of salvation, assuring us that he does not run aimlessly but ‘for the sake of the good news, that I may share in its blessings’ (1 Cor 9:23-6). This is echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews: 'let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us’ (Heb. 12:1). Though St Paul points out that earthly races have only one winner, the prize of salvation in Jesus is offered to us all. 'So run that you may obtain it!' 

In the Gospel, of course, the running comes to an end. The blind dash is soon over and a certain rationality and calmness descends. The Beloved Disciple has got their first and sees linen cloths, but now he pauses for Peter to catch up. Whether it's out of trepidation for what he might find if he entered the tomb alone, or out of deference to Peter, the leader of the Twelve, the Beloved Disciple waits as though meditating some awesome possibility. But he does not yet know. He does not yet believe.

It is only a moment later, when the Beloved Disciple follows Peter into the tomb, that he believes at last: ‘he saw and he believed’. Having run to seek Jesus, he takes only a moment of quiet meditation to understand what Scripture had taught them, and what Jesus had promised all along.

The disciples will now run all over the world, bringing the good news to others. We should run with them too, bringing the Risen Jesus to those we meet.

A happy and holy Easter to all.

Images: Eugène Burnand, The disciples Peter and John running to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection (1898); Chariots of Fire (1981)

Fr Matthew Jarvis O.P.


Fr Matthew Jarvis is currently studying Patristics at the Catholic University of Lyon.


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