The race to the empty tomb
We have recently celebrated Good Friday and Easter, two of the most important celebrations in the Christian world. We have advantage today of reading and hearing about how the events first occurred, and so the element of surprise is somehow missing among us. It was not like that with the early disciples of Jesus. They were disappointed and sad, followed by a pleasant surprise a few days later.
On that Sunday morning, the disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ were about to find out the biggest, surprising news ever – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The news is so big that many of us do not pay attention to some of the small details such as the race to the empty tomb.
As narrated in Chapter 20 of the Gospel according to John, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus was laid and found out that the stone had been removed from the entrance and the body of Jesus was not lying where it was laid. She was sad and confused. All sorts of conspiracy theories were probably going through her mind. Have the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman soldiers conspired to take the body away for national security reasons? Or, have the Jewish religious leaders conspired with some mischievous people to hide the body of Jesus, undermine the fact of the resurrection, and deprive the world of the greatest news ever?
While these were going through her mind, Mary ran to Peter and John to inform them and seek explanation or some comfort about Jesus’ disappearance. By that time, it had not dawned on Mary or the disciples that Jesus was going to resurrect on the third day (John 20:9). As soon as she told them, the race to the empty tomb began. The athletes for the race were Mary, Peter, and John.
Let’s start with Mary. Mary was disadvantaged, but it was not because she was a woman. Remember that it was Mary who first ran the race from the tomb to tell Peter and John about the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Naturally, she was tired and was not expected to run as fast as the two refreshed men, so she let the two take off first by themselves.
Peter was a lot of things, but not everything. In the name of Jesus, Peter healed the cripple (Acts 3:6-7), healed the sick (Acts 5:15-16; Acts 9:34), and even raised the dead (Acts 9:40). Peter was great, but a fast runner, he was not. He was not the fastest runner among the disciples. John outran him and reached the tomb first (John 20:4).
We are not perfect. We cannot be all things. We may not be the fastest, smartest, tallest, strongest, richest, or the most handsome or most beautiful person, but we are what we are and that is a lot! Peter would probably not have been selected for the Olympic Games. And so if you do not make the team, do not worry; the best of you is yet to come. Do not allow anyone to look down on you because he or she has something you do not have. There is something you have that the other person, too, may not have. Coming home to the body of Christ, the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have the gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31). Therefore, do not be bamboozled by those who, because of a particular gift or quality they may possess, have elevated themselves above everyone else to justify their own self-importance.
John was the first to arrive at the tomb. He was a better runner than Peter. John bent over and looked inside the tomb, but initially did not go inside. That is what some people do. They attend Church services or Christian activities, which is good. However, instead of staying inside and actively participating in what is going on, they “register” their presence, take a peek at what is going on inside, then congregate outside the Church chatting, texting, calling on the phone or doing things unrelated to activities inside the Church. Socialization is good, but those “side bar” activities take away the benefits of the attendance and do not help to build our faith. John would not have benefited from the experience as much if he had not eventually entered the tomb to see things for himself after Peter entered. Talk about the first shall be last!
Life is like a race. Some start slowly, warm up, and finish strongly. Others start quickly, sit on their lead or run into bumps, and fall. Some are able to pick themselves up when they fall while others stay down and do not rejoin the race. And there are those who are in-between and end up with mixed results. Still others run a race that leads to a better life while others run a race that leads to disaster or even death.
The race to the empty tomb started so quickly that there was no coach to train them, no time for them to prepare, and no spectators to cheer them on. Today, however, we have time to prepare for the race that is set before us. Today, we have coaches and spectators in pastors, Church members, the Christian brethren, and our friends and family to train, cheer, and pick us up when we fall. In addition, we have Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to guide, energize, and pick us up when we fall. Above all, the Almighty God who raised Jesus from death is still alive and doing mighty deeds for those who trust in him. God is there to contain and overpower Satan and his forces of evil and pave the way for us to run the race to victory and obtain the prize. Therefore, let’s keep our eyes on the prize, which is the salvation of our souls.
In the end, the issue of who won the race to the empty tomb depends on where we place the finish line. What was the goal of the race? Was it to reach the tomb or to investigate the disappearance of the body of Jesus? It was the latter, that is, to investigate the disappearance from the tomb of the body of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If so, Peter appears to have won the race after all. Score one for those of us who are not fast runners or who are not the best in anything, but who are willing to try and press on with the help of God. Score one also for all those who sacrifice their own ambitions to help others cross the finish line. What Christians want is to be able to say with our brother Paul: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.
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