The Disciples Peter and John Run to the Sepulchre the Morning of the Resurrection (Les disciples Pierre et Jean courant au Sépulcre le matin de la Résurrection) by Eugène Burnand

Eugène Burnand

The Disciples Peter and John Run to the Sepulchre the Morning of the Resurrection (Les disciples Pierre et Jean courant au Sépulcre le matin de la Résurrection), 1898, Oil on canvas, 83 x 135.5 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, RF 1153, LUX 1219, JdeP 338, Photo: Martine Beck-Coppola © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

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Loving Without Seeing

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Here the aged letter-writer (Peter) runs alongside his young friend, John son of Zebedee. Those familiar with John’s Gospel will know what directly precedes this moment: another disciple, Mary Magdalene, has just seen the risen Jesus, and has told Peter and John the astonishing news (John 20:1–2). Swiss painter Eugène Burnand (1851–1921) shows the two disciples running to Jesus’s tomb to see for themselves.

Burnand often painted everyday working people, and Peter and John appear not as enhaloed saints but as two fishermen. John clasps his hands in pleading prayer; Peter holds one hand, weathered with age and sun, over his heart, while the other points ahead (is that the tomb in the distance, just out of view?). They hurry forward. One can almost feel the cool morning air on their faces.

Dawn breaks; the sky is flooded with gold. Of course, Burnand paints the dawn because it was still early in the morning when Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb. But for Christians the dawn becomes also a symbol of the dawning of God’s new age, when they too will rise and receive the unfading inheritance being kept in heaven for them (1 Peter 1:4).

When Peter writes his letter to the exiles of the Diaspora—that is, to Christians scattered across Asia Minor—he uses gold as an image of their faith (v.7). Just as gold is refined in fire, so their faith was being tested and made stronger by suffering. Peter knew his own suffering, not only as he ran to his Lord’s tomb, hoping against hope that it would be empty as Mary promised, but also in the bitter tears he wept after he denied knowing Jesus three times just before Jesus’s death (John 18:15–18, 25–27).

When Peter wrote, ‘Although you have not seen him, you love him’ (1:8), he might have been describing his own beating heart, and John’s, as they ran on that first Easter morning—not seeing, but still straining forwards.


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