Each of the Gospels has its own unique emphasis as it shares the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. In John chapter 20 we are told how Peter and John ran to the tomb after Mary reported it was empty. Verse four says, “The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” Why was this detail of having arrived first, important to John? Did it give him bragging rights? “I beat Peter to the tomb!” I have often puzzled over this aside within the Easter story. On Easter there was a race and John outran Peter. It seems like the kind of detail one commits to memory around a life changing event. It’s the event that is important, but it’s importance is mirrored in the details that are remembered around it. For John, outrunning Peter was one of those details.
But they were not the first to run that morning. Backing up to verse two we see that Mary Magdalene was the first to run. She ran from the tomb to tell Peter and John what had been discovered: the tomb was empty. They ran to the tomb to verify her claim and see for themselves. Lot’s of running.
What is it that causes people to run? Let’s set aside the practice of running for exercise for a moment and consider other causes. One cause, found in Mary’s running, is fear. Fear can cause flight. Mary was afraid of what may have happened to Jesus’ body. She was afraid he had been taken. This fear is belayed in her words: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Upon finding the tomb open and empty Mary jumped to the conclusion that it had been robbed. Fresh off her eye witness treatment of Jesus, from his arrest to trial to crucifixion, Mary assumed the worst. Even in death she feared Jesus’ opponents had not left him alone. Imagine the depravity and paranoia she must have applied to those whom she suspected. She ran to tell others, namely Jesus’ disciples, about this tragic discovery. She ran, motivated by her worst fears having (she thought) been realized. She ran in disappointment, grief, panic – but most of all fear.
John and Peter ran too, but perhaps with a different motive. All they had to follow, up to that moment, was Mary’s report that the tomb was empty, Jesus’ body removed. They ran to verify. They ran to investigate. They ran to get to the bottom of things. They may have been fearful that it was true, but the fear was overcome by the anger and frustration that propelled them. When one is energized with a pulsating adrenalin, running comes easier. John outran Peter. Was this because he was younger, in better shape, or just juiced? His legs propelled him all the way to the garden tomb, with Peter close behind. They came to see for themselves, and to see what to make of it all. Mary ran from the tomb, these man ran back to it.
Remember the tragic events of 9/11 and seeing some of the tributes to the firefighters and emergency responders? Tribute was couched in the language of running. As people were running from the twin towers to save their lives, firefighters and emergency responders were running in to save lives. Both types of running were important that day, as they were on Resurrection morning.
Mary’s running sounded the news – something was unusual, unexpected and needed to be investigated. Peter and John’s running explored the scene, looked at the evidence and drew conclusions. When he arrived Peter went right into the tomb, while John caught his breath outside. Later John came in also, and he reports (v.8) “he saw and believed”. What did he believe? That the tomb was empty? That Jesus’ body was gone? Or more? Verse nine tells us “as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead”. So, did John believe in the resurrection at this point? Or did he simply believe things were amiss? Did he believe one possible explanation was that Jesus was alive?
The foot race of Easter initially adds more questions than answers to the Easter queries. But not for long. Mary later returns to that garden tomb from which she had earlier run away. By then John and Peter had returned to their homes (v.10). “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb.” She then bent over to look in, and in return was rewarded by the presence of two angels, and then Jesus himself – whom she did not recognize. “Why are you weeping?”, he asked (repeating the same question the angels had posed). “Who are you looking for?” – his second question.
By this time Mary’s fear may have been replaced with frustration. She wants answers, not questions. She needs information, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Mary is ready to make right what feels so wrong. She has plans to take back Jesus’ body, to restore him to his place of rest. The last thing she expects is that this gardener will call her by name.
But he does. He knows her name! “Mary!” he says. This was a voice she knew. This was – could it be? This man, not a gardener, but the Teacher, the Lord – Jesus, alive! For Mary this was the finish line of her Easter morning race. What an ending! Indeed. “He’s alive!” “Christ is risen!” “Alleluia.”
What do you run from? What do you run to? As I get older I do not run very often. It hurts to run. My knees are a mess. It’s jarring. I’d much rather walk. I do a lot of walking, and a fair amount of cycling. But on occasion I’ll run a few steps. To catch a grandson. To play a game. To keep from missing out. To surprise someone. I run when, in the moment, the reward of that effort exceeds any possible concern.
How about you? What causes you to run?
One of my favorite songs is Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn”. The lyrics imagine a meeting with Jesus at the end of life’s journey. The language is that of invitation: “Come to Jesus.” “Sing to Jesus”. “Fall on Jesus”. “Cry to Jesus”. “Dance for Jesus”. “Fly to Jesus”. I’d like to add one more line – it’s the one I imagine yet again this Easter: “Run to Jesus”. He knows your name. He loves you. He died for your sins. He is risen. He lives. This is the message at the end of Easter’s foot race. It’s the reward (now and in eternity) of a life well lived. May you run the race well.