This is one of my favorite religious paintings. It shows Peter and John running to the tomb on Easter morning.
One of the striking features of the gospel readings for Eastertide is all the running that is going on. Mary Magdalene runs to tell the apostles about the resurrection. Peter and John run to the tomb. The disciples on the road to Emmaus run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell their tale. The energy and rush continues into the Pentecost accounts where the lame beggar is healed and is in the temple ‘walking and leaping and praising God.’
It’s all so much more vibrant and alive than our usual rather dull expectations of religion. Here’s a faith that makes you jump up and run for your life! Gimme that kind of faith!
The resurrection gives us new energy, new enthusiasm and a new reason to run the race of faith. The problem is, it’s not long before we stumble and fall again. The reason we get so discouraged by this is that we probably have a wrong expectation of what the race is all about. Because we live in an instant, success oriented, paste-a-smile on yer face kind of culture we assume that we must ‘succeed’ in our spiritual life as well. We imagine that somehow, some day we will get to the point where we sail along with no sin in our life, and that we will triumph over adversity and temptation and be a spiritual ‘success’.
But that is to misunderstand not only the spiritual life, but the nature of life altogether. We’re running a long distance, cross country race. That means we’ll stumble and fall. We’ll get exhausted. We’ll suffer from heat stroke. We’ll get cramps. We’ll fall into muddy ditches. We might even break a leg or pop a gasket. The spiritual life is a long, hard journey. Run we must, but we can’t imagine that it will be easy.
Two other things: like any journey, the progress is not smooth and straight. More often we move forward two steps and fall back one. We fall into sin, but we get up and keep going. We get lost, so we take time to figure out where to go next. We get confused and discouraged, so we slow down to gather our strength and discover how to move forward. That’s the nature of an adventure. That’s the nature of a cross country run. The question is not how often we fall down, but how often we get up.
Finally, sometimes the long distance runner gets into the flow. He reaches a high where the running feels fine and he feels like he could run for eternity. This happens too in the spiritual life, and when it does, give thanks and run like the wind!