Our Sunday School children know the rule about running at church – the one that says, “Please don’t run in the church.” This morning, the rule was suspended for five minutes – set on a timer – so that the story might be told.
Mary Magdalene comes and tells Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple about her discovery of the empty tomb. SP and the BD run to the tomb – somewhere along the way it seems to turn into a bit of a race. The BD gets there first. He looks inside, but doesn’t go in. Although he arrives second (and maybe more short of breath), SP has no such hesitation, and dives headlong into the empty tomb.
[During the reenactment of the race, two by two up the centre aisle, I had not expected my first SP to be quite so shy; I had not, in other words, expected to have to dive through the empty tomb, aka packing box, myself, to lead the way. Fortunately, I made it through to the other side, though there were some worrying moments.]
So who, technically, won the race? Who got to the tomb first?
The BD, who arrived first at the door? Simon Peter, who was the first to enter? What about Mary Mags, who had already been there and back before the boys were even awake?
What about Jesus?
In a way, it doesn’t matter who got there first, because Jesus isn’t there. Instead, he comes back for them, calling Mary by name, walking on the beach with Peter, watching over the BD, even returning twice to the same place for Thomas, trying again.
Jesus is not a prize we win. He comes freely to each of us, to call us by name. We don’t always recognize him. But he comes back for us, not only when we’re winning, but especially when we’re sad, or lonely, or lost.
But when he does come back for Mary, lost and lonely in the garden, he won’t let her hold onto him; when he does come to her, and call her name, he tells her to share the good news.
Jesus is not a prize we hold onto, but the good news that we share.
This is not a religion for winners. I saw a billboard once, for a church, that said, “Where Winners Worship, And God is Praised,” and my first thought was, well, that’s nice.
But what about the rest of us? Where do the losers go to worship. And is God praised when they do, or do you have to win for it to count?
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with winning. A number of basketball players and fans are counting on that this weekend. The fast, the strong, the agile and the able, the smart and quick-witted, each have their place at the table. But it is the best news to some of us that this is not necessarily the religion of winners.
Jesus ended up losing his life on a cross, for all his winning ways. And even after the resurrection, there were no winners amongst his disciples; Jesus was not a prize for the fastest, the boldest, the bravest. We would love to win the right to decide whom God loves, but that’s just not how the gospel works.
No one gets to hold onto God’s love and dole it out like candy prizes, rationing the deserving and the undeserving.
It can get quite uncomfortable, sharing God’s love with those we find it impossible to love. But even from the cross, Jesus invoked God’s forgiveness on his own murderers. There are those we find it inconceivable to love; but for God all things are possible, and God made each of us, all of us, for the love of God.
This is not a clear-cut Christian story. The Gospel is rather a messy, unfair, unkempt story of failure and death, angel encounters, winnerless races, empty grave clothes, and the destruction of evil, the undoing of death, the reversal of the Resurrection of Jesus, who comes back for each of his disciples, to call them by name and assure them of his love for each last one of them, even if they mistake him for the gardener; even if he has to come back to the same place twice.
We love the idea of winning. But isn’t it even better to know that we do not need to win God’s love? That God has loved us all along. And Jesus is the living proof of that love.