This homily is based on John 20:1-9.
There’s a lot of running that goes on at Easter. Every single account of that first Easter morning reports it. In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene discovers the stone rolled away from the tomb, and immediately she runs to Simon Peter, who, upon hearing her report, along with the beloved disciple, makes a run for the Lord’s burial place.
Running away from the tomb as Mary Magdalene does is understandable. Frightened and confused, Mary needs to immediately inform the other disciples of this unexpected and mysterious event. In similar accounts, the women who have come to anoint Jesus’ body not only stumble over an empty tomb, its large stone mysteriously rolled away, but are also informed by an angel that their Lord is risen. Surprised by this development in a still ongoing emotional roller coaster, they are frightened and flee from the tomb.
Here, however, we have Peter and the beloved disciple running towards the tomb. Of course! Mary Magdalene’s news has many serious implications. Perhaps the enemies of Jesus have not been content with the crucifixion, and have desecrated his tomb. Perhaps some thieves have stolen the body (this is why the detail of the properly folded burial shroud is important because it disproves this theory). Or is it possible–could it be the case–that all that strange ambiguous talk of Jesus about rising from the dead is actually true?
The beloved disciple, maybe younger and more fit, outruns Peter and arrives at the tomb ahead of Peter. Or maybe he does because nothing else is in his heart but the desire to find out–and maybe, just maybe–see the Lord! In sports lingo, he would be a front-runner, one who performs best when in the lead.
And Peter? Usually the first to say or do something, this time, he quite uncharacteristically falls behind. It is possible that there are other things on his mind that may be slowing down his pace: some kind of hesitation, some kind of fear. After all, how eager would you be to face the person you have let down, denying Him not once but three times? Surely Peter loves the Lord, but it’s quite understandable if this morning, as he is running towards the tomb, he has some pretty mixed feelings about meeting his Master.
What would Jesus say to him? Would Jesus even look at him? Would he be given a chance to explain or beg for forgiveness? Would Jesus forgive him? Would he even bear to look at his beloved teacher, him with the piercing eyes that can read the contents of his heart?
These questions are enough to slow you down–or make you turn back.
But Peter doesn’t turn back. He keeps running, even if maybe not as fast as he can, and he finally makes it to the entrance of the tomb, where the beloved disciple stands waiting. Heart racing, Peter takes a deep breath and steps into the empty tomb that, though he has no way of knowing it yet then, will transform him.
How about you? How fast would you run to the tomb this Easter? How eager and single-minded are you about meeting the Risen Lord today? Would you be a front-runner like the beloved disciple?
Or would your strides resemble Peter’s more? Maybe there’s something that is slowing you down and infusing some hesitation into your steps. Maybe there’s an area in your life that you are not too eager to show the Lord, and it’s understandably keeping you back. Worry not: What matters is not your pace, but that you keep running the way Peter does in today’s Gospel story.
In Easter, we don’t all need to be front runners. The important thing is that like Peter, we keep running towards the Risen Lord until finally, hearts racing, we run into Him.
Happy Easter to all!