A postcard that my son purchased for me with this image on it is my favorite souvenir from my only trip to France in 1995 or so. Actually, it’s my only souvenir from that trip, aside from some photos stuck away in a dresser drawer.
After I signed up for a yoga retreat in France using a brochure I found at California Yoga in Palo Alto (I hadn’t yet realized what I now believe are the spiritual dangers of yoga, and I had been practicing yoga for years to help my back), I offered to pay my grown son Liberty’s way as a sort of a bribe to gain his company during the trip. I joked that he could serve as my beast of burden, since we didn’t have wheeled luggage yet. He also really came in handy hefting my as-usual-excessive amount of luggage to and from a rack above our heads in a TGV railway carriage, when we took a high-speed rail trip from Paris to Montpelier in the south of France for the first part of our itinerary.
After we had spent a week at the yoga retreat surrounded by vineyards in Languedoc Roussillon in the south, we drove north in a rental car back to Paris again. After three days of touring in and around the city of lights, I needed a rest, so Liberty went to Musée d’Orsay one day without me.
I was sad to miss the museum, but I was happy when Liberty brought me back a postcard with this image of Saints John and Peter racing to the tomb of Christ on Easter morning. He is not a believer (yet, I hope), but he knew I’d love it. The painting shows in heart-rending realism the emotions that the two apostles must have been feeling, and it hints at the glory of the Resurrection with the pale, golden, dawn of that splendid day lighting up the sky and the fields through which they were running.
They had just spent three dark days in pain and grief. They had helplessly watched their beloved Master be taken away from them, beaten, judged, publicly tortured, mocked, and crucified. He died, and His lifeless body had been put into a tomb. Such a horror! He had told them He would rise again, but, as was true about many other things He told them, they couldn’t really grasp yet what that might mean.
Nothing like that had happened since the world began, that a man would rise from the dead. Jesus had resurrected others, but it was hardly comprehensible that He could resurrect Himself. Even though they had seen His Transfiguration not long before, the reality of His passion and death had intervened and obscured the promise of that vision.
These were practical men, who not long ago had been fishermen. Everybody knows that when you are dead, you are gone from this earth for good. Hope seemed dead.
But then that morning, hope had risen again. They had just heard from Mary Magdalene that she had seen the Lord. She had gone early to the tomb with some other women planning to anoint His dead body. Instead, to her great joy, she had met Him alive in His risen body. Jesus had told her to go back and tell Peter and the other disciples to meet Him in Galilee.
Peter and John raced to the tomb because they wanted to see that it was empty for themselves.
I framed the postcard with this brilliant image that shows Saints Peter and John racing to the tomb with their hopes and fears written on their faces, and every year I bring it out again on Easter Sunday and put it on the dining room table, where it stays until the end of the Easter season at Pentecost. Every time I look at it, I rejoice in the moment again.
Resurrexit sicut dixit! Alleluia!
He has risen as He said! Alleluia!
Top image attribution: photograph by Doug Jenkinson, via Wikimedia Commons.
For more about the painter, Eugène Burnand and this work of art, you can read this Crisis magazine article hyperbolically titled, “The Greatest Easter Painting Ever Made.”