Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
For a lot of teenagers, their favorite class is gym class. Was that the case for anybody here? Not for me! I wouldn’t say that I hated gym class…but there was one part of it that I did, and that was running. I’m not sure why, but I have never, ever liked to run—and that’s only become even more so in all these years when I didn’t have to do it anymore.
At the beginning of Lent, I began a little daily exercise program—one that will continue even after these last 40 days. I’m not getting any younger…and I wasn’t getting any smaller around the middle, either: it was time. So there have been pushups and sit-ups and jumping jacks, and some rather unusual stretches with funny names that I do not care to publically demonstrate or describe. Sometimes it leaves me a little sore, but all in all, it has left me feeling rather good.
Even before I got started on Ash Wednesday, I looked ahead through the pages of this exercise program, and there it was in black and white: running. Another priest who’s doing the same program at the same time assured me, “We don’t have to run until Easter Monday, so don’t worry about it yet.” Well, it’s a good thing he studied theology and wasn’t a math major, because he was wrong. At the beginning of the week, I realized: my first run would be on Good Friday. Seems rather appropriate, doesn’t it? As you can see, I survived!
While I’ve been panting through my little exercise routine, do you know what Fr. Scott has been doing? He’s been training for a half marathon next Saturday. It’s hard for me to fathom, but he’s one of those weird people who actually likes to run—and I think he’s even good at it. Which is why I was mortified when he said he’d looked out the rectory window at 7 o’clock Good Friday morning and saw me doing my 200-meter sprints up and down Arsenal Green. He might have just been being nice to his pastor, but I took it as a huge compliment when he said I looked pretty good out there.
Today, we hear of how two of the Lord’s first priests—the Apostles Simon Peter and John—went for a little run on that first Easter morning. (If Fr. Scott and I were to do a little reenactment for you, you should have no trouble guessing who would be Peter and who would be John!) They run at first hearing the news that Jesus’ tomb has been found empty. Having gone there to pay her respects, Mary Magdalene finds the heavy stone rolled away…and is afraid the Lord’s body has been stolen. It’s John who’s not only fleet of foot, and therefore first to peek inside, but quick to put the pieces together: this is the third day since Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had promised—as had the scriptures before him—that on this day he would rise. And raised with Jesus were all the hopes that also died on the Cross among those who believed in him.
As much as I hate to say it: I think running is the most natural thing of all for us Christians to do on Easter—actually, I’ll take it even further: running is the most natural thing of all for us Christians to do, period.
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, in a passage I’ve only just begun to appreciate, tell us:
Do you not know that all the runners in the stadium run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly…. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor 6:24-27).
The Easter jog taken by Peter and John tells us that we need to run to Jesus. If we have been baptized with Christ, then we have died and been buried with him. At the Good News that he is risen, we need to run after him—not just on Easter Sunday, but every single day. We are not followers of a nice idea, or a righteous moral code, or of a respected teacher who’s long been dead and gone. We are disciples of one who died and was raised, giving proof that he was no mere mortal, but God in human flesh. If we’re disciples of a man who is very much alive, then we need to be constantly following after him. If we want to share in his victory over sin and death, if we want to win the unfading crown that awaits us on high, then we need to seek what is above—and not waste a minute doing so. Run so as to win—to win a place in heaven.
If you were paying close attention, then you caught the fact that Peter and John weren’t actually the first ones to get moving on their feet that Sunday morning. It’s Mary Magdalene who first springs into action, running from the tomb to spread the word about what she’d seen. The Resurrection of Jesus—even before she understood it clearly—was something she just couldn’t keep to herself. It ought to be likewise for us. In this world where the news is so often so very bad—of terrorism or natural disaster or unemployment or deadly disease—we really shouldn’t keep the truly Good News to ourselves. As we find Peter doing in our first reading, and as he’ll do for the rest of his life, we need to get out there and share it—and at top speed. Our weary world desperately needs to hear about the hope and new life that only Christ can give. When others see the joy, the faith, the courage, that gets us up and moving, they, too, will want to meet the Risen One who has changed our lives. Run so as to win—to win souls for Christ.
Now, just 10 days ago, running was so far off my radar that I didn’t even own a decent pair of sneakers in which to do it. (I almost wore my fancy new ones this morning just to show them off!) So this may seem like pretty strange advice coming from me of all people, but: Start running this Easter, and don’t ever stop. First, run to Jesus. Don’t let him get out of your sight! Stay close to him, chase after him, no matter how far or fast you have to go. Because you won’t find him in the tomb anymore, run to him in the Church, in the Mass and the other Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in prayer, in loving service to your neighbor—to all those points of encounter where we’re sure to meet the risen Lord. And then run for Jesus. Don’t keep the gift of salvation to yourself. Take him out with you into the world, into your daily life, and do so with a spring in your step.
So if you happen to see me dashing through the park these next several weeks, please don’t point and laugh (although I hope the sight does bring a smile to your face). And please, don’t stop me to talk: I’m probably running against the stopwatch, and I really don’t want to have to start all over again!
But if you notice me—of any other of his followers—running to Jesus or running for Jesus, then by all means, run with me. Run with Mary Magdalene. Run slow like Simon Peter, or fast like the beloved disciple. Run so as to win. Keep running, and don’t every stop.