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Belief: Getting to Easter John 20:1-18

By William Willimon
I wonder how you got here this morning. In my experience, crowds are always larger on Easter so that means that there may be a greater diversity than usual in the congregation. I expect that some of you have come here because you are always here, even when it's not Easter. Others of you may have come because, though you are not usually here on Sundays, it's Easter. Still, others of you have come because someone invited you, or someone forced you, or just simply out of curiosity.

I got a call a few years ago from a reporter for The Duke Chronicle.

"I'm doing a story on fun things to do during Spring Break," said the student voice, "and thought it would be cool to mention the Chapel."

"Okay," I said cautiously, the tone I always use with The Chronicle.

"Dr. Willimon, what is the goal of Easter?"

"The goal of Easter?"

I had no ready answer. I could see the story, "Preacher says Easter is pointless."

What has brought you here? How did you get here?

I watched you arriving this Easter and I noted that, though you came by automobile, or lumbering up the sidewalk, none of you came running. None of you ran toward Easter. Which, notes Tom Long, is curious because, according to John's Easter gospel, there was a great deal of dashing about on the first Easter. First, according to John, Mary Magdalene came (John 20:2) and she, seeing the stone rolled away and the tomb empty, started running. Not that she believed in resurrection at this point, for that would come later (John 20:11-18). For now, in the pre-dawn darkness, she just begins running back to tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus' body is gone. "They've taken away my Lord and I don't know where to find him," she shouts.

On her sprint back to town, she meets Peter and the beloved disciple. In her shock, her fear, Mary reminds me of a boy in my high school chemistry class. During some chemistry experiment gone wrong, there was an explosion in the back of the class. Nothing serious, just a loud bang. And he, seated at the front, bolted out the door, ran down the hall and was not heard from again that day.

"What on earth were you thinking about?" the teacher asked him the next day.

"I wasn't thinking about anything," he said. "I was just running. I didn't know what to do, so I ran."

Mary Magdalene, in her grief, ran. Jesus was crucified, dead and buried. And now someone had taken His body. So, she ran.

On her way back she met these two disciples. When she tells them what she saw, or didn't see, they break out into a run. She ran from the empty tomb; they ran toward it.

Tom Long called my attention to an interesting detail. John says these two disciples didn't just run together toward the tomb, they ran against one another toward the tomb. They get in some sort of race, rushing -- now one gaining on the other, then falling behind, gaining again -- toward ... what?

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