A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 20, 2014 (Easter Day)
At about this time tomorrow, 36,000 runners will embark on a 26.2 mile odyssey that will take them from the starting line in Hopkinton, through a wall of screaming co-eds in Wellesley, up and down the Newton hills, and eventually to the finish line on Boylston Street.
This isn’t a great news flash, of course. The pre-race hype has been unprecedented and over the past week we’ve all been reliving last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, through the media and in conversations with one another. We’ve remembered those who lost their lives and prayed for those still recovering from physical and emotional trauma.
To varying degrees we were all affected by last year’s tragedy and Patriots Day 2014 will likely turn into one long day of regional catharsis. Which we could all use. I ran the race in 2008 and at one level I can’t even imagine what tomorrow will be like. The crowds, the emotion, the global news coverage.
But at another level, I know exactly what it will be like. Not because I once turned that corner onto Boylston Street and dragged myself the last four blocks to the finish line amid throngs of cheering spectators — I barely remember that. But because tomorrow’s 118th running of the Boston Marathon will be a tangible sign of resurrection. Each footstep, each cheer will allow the finish line in Copley Square to be reclaimed as a place not of tragedy but of triumph.
And as Christians we know something about transformation and new life. On Easter, the cross is transformed from an implement of torture and death into an instrument of resurrection glory. Hope and meaning emerge out of chaos and we are transported into a new, life-giving relationship with God.
But we also know something about death — faith doesn’t make us immune to the painful realities of life. We lose someone close to us and the pain can be searing; a relationship fractures and it leaves us reeling; we lose a job and we’re left seeking an identity; an institution we’ve always loved closes and it leaves a void; we feel betrayed by a friend and it stings.
When we talk about resurrection, we first must confront death. You can’t share in resurrection joy without first experiencing grief. Indeed, the road to Easter goes straight through Good Friday. And yet Easter reminds us that despite the tragedies and trials we all face in this life, death doesn’t get the last word. We don’t remain on Heartbreak Hill. Death doesn’t win.
Life does. Because when Jesus emerges from that tomb, everything changes. Life wins out over death, resurrection triumphs over crucifixion. And we are set free by the knowledge that whether we live or die we are alive in Jesus Christ. That false boundary between life and death is breached and the fear of death no longer has power over us. And when we shed the fear of death, only then can we truly live. Only then can we reach for that crown of glory that never fades away.
Which brings us to the women at the tomb. In reading Matthew’s version of the Easter story, one particular detail stuck out for me this year. The women who first encounter the risen Christ don’t lope off to tell the other disciples this stunning news. They don’t saunter or stroll or even mall walk. Matthew tells us very clearly that they run. Imbued with this intoxicating yet curious mixture of “fear and great joy,” they take off.
Talk about running with a purpose, the women engage in the sprint of their lives fueled by wonder, disbelief, euphoria, and adrenaline. They race to share the good news with those closest to Jesus, the male disciples who, in the darkness of despair, had scattered and lost all hope. And in light of tomorrow’s race, that just seems perfect.
We do a lot of running in our lives — we run away from people and problems and difficult decisions. And sometimes the life of faith does feel like a marathon. Like a long slog with periods of doubt and pain and hopelessness. But the good news is that we don’t run it in isolation; we run it with one another and with Jesus at our side, encouraging us, forgiving us, loving us.
St. Paul writes, “Run with patience the race that is set before you.” And while much of life is about patience and pacing, Easter is a finish line kind of day. It’s not a time to temper our joy but a day to run toward Jesus with reckless abandon. The marathon has already been won; the victory of life over death is complete. Why? Because Jesus lives! Because Jesus Christ is indeed risen today and everyday.
Tomorrow, there will be a swirl of emotion at the finish line in Copley Square. But I trust the overwhelming one will be the euphoria of triumph over tragedy. And on this Easter Day, may you experience the thrill of Christ’s victory over the grave, may the light of resurrection glory shine in your heart, and may you always run the race that is our earthly pilgrimage filled with the hope and joy of the risen Christ. Alleluia and Amen.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck