In 1992, my dream of studying abroad came true. My college cohort spent a glorious semester studying in Cambridge with Father Walter Hooper, former Personal Secretary to C.S. Lewis and renowned scholar. What followed were 10 days of speeding across France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, and the Czech Republic exploring their cities, museums, and beautiful landscapes.
While wandering through the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I was captivated by Eugene Burnard’s The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. Peter, who had denied Christ, and John the Beloved—the oldest and the youngest of the disciples—raced to the empty tomb after Mary Magdalene’s astonishing pronouncement. Their faces spoke a thousand words. After three days of unimaginable fear, despair, and grief, could what Jesus have claimed actually be true? They ran with hands clasped and hearts held, their windswept hair showing their urgency as they raced toward joy. Scripture tells us in John 20 that while John the Beloved arrived first, and that he believed, Peter was the first to enter tomb.
As a viewer of this painting, I can place myself in the disciples’ path-worn sandals and feel the bitter tears they wept watching their Rabbi violently die before their eyes. I can feel with them in his death the death of their own dreams. I imagine Peter’s shame and John’s deep bond of friendship with Yeshua the Christ, and the weight of responsibility to take care of Mary, His mother. They must have had a myriad of unanswerable questions in the midst of their grief. And a flood of memories – of the miracles, the loaves and fishes, Galilean fishing expeditions, the dead brought to life, of promises made. And those other memories, too – of the violent and hateful rejection by the synagogue leaders and the brutality of the hours that followed.
Lately, it seems that the call to die to self has been a frequent refrain my devotions. Naturally drawn to the promises in God’s Word, especially the hopeful verses of fulfillment, I want to hear something encouraging.
- “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
- “We are more than conquerors.” (Romans 8:37)
- “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
- “I know the plans I have for you.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Yet I struggle when the sky is dark, when I feel weak, when I don’t feel like a conqueror, when I am battling enemies, when it feels as if there is no plan.
Here is where, like the first disciples, I must learn to walk in greater freedom and claim each promise with ownership, I, too, must peel back and discard my expectations. They had to die to their self-envisioned dreams, their conceptions of what they believed Christ should do and say. Passionate Peter expected a revolution. I imagine Luke believed he had discovered a perfect physician. Matthew probably anticipated tax reform and order to government spending. The people expected a king to defeat Caesar and his oppressive Roman government. After all, Jesus had healed, He had performed miracles, He had fed the multitudes, and He was fearless. After years of oppression they had a glimmer of hope, and they expected victory now!
Isn’t that what we all do? We pray and naturally expect to see our prayers answered. Many of us carry the promises of Christ close to our hearts, but often years go by without seeing their fulfillment. I have prayed for complete healing for six years. Some of you have heart desires to see your work published. We have prayed for the salvation of loved ones. We long for it all now—health, miracles, financial freedom, salvation and deliverance. Is it conceivable to allow our desires to die and be resurrected in His perfect timing? Are we more interested in prayers answered our way than the presence of Christ alone? I am in a season of great longing for fulfillment on a number of fronts. However, the wisdom of age, pain, stumblings, and seasons walking with Christ in the desert have shaped my perspective. He gently calls me to lean back on His breast, trust and simply BE with Him. Do I want His face or do I want His hand?
The disciples’ delight in the Resurrection superseded their pain and disappointment, the death of their dreams, and the hope that had been deferred. As I release my expectations, assumptions, and questions to Christ— my “nevertheless, Lord, Your will be done”—and allow them to be buried, only then can I, too, experience resurrection.
I experienced Keith Green’s music for the first time long ago now but the influence of it lingers with me still. We had just moved to Garden Valley, Texas and joined the church he had belonged to. Keith had recently died in a tragic plane wreck and the church was reeling with grief over the tragedy. Yet in the midst of the heartbreak, in the midst of their questions and loss, the joy in his Easter song, He is Risen, could make my heart leap with praise and hope.
Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing Christ is risen from the dead
The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead
Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
Don’t linger outside the tomb grieving a dead Messiah. Enter in.
The dawn awakens Easter and O Joy, we find Him as the living Savior—not bound by the blood-stained shroud—but truly alive. He is risen! He is risen indeed.
The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection
Mary has cherished life-long literary dreams coupled with a passion for ministry, all of which lead her to study English literature and later theology and counseling in seminary. She has been designing artisan jewelry for eight years while homeschooling son Ian and daughter Julianna. She and her husband Mark Miller have been in ministry for the past thirteen years in San Diego and currently dwell in Washington with their cat Lord Peter Wimsey as Mark finishes his dissertation. Mary enjoys off-the-wall humor, gardening, cooking, and curling up with anything penned by Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Jane Austen.