The text we consider this Easter weekend is John 20:1-10. And the contemplation of this scene we have from the thoughtful hands of the Swiss painter Eugène Burnand (1850-1921), a painting he called The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulcher on the Morning of the Resurrection (1898).
How would you describe why Peter and John are running and leaning towards the empty tomb? The depth of Burnand’s insight, and the eloquence of his presentation, compel our attention. Will you, can you, slow down – not run on by to your next thing – and think about this? “For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (John 20:9 NABRE). Let the artist show you what he found as a result of his praying with John 20:1-10. Study those two faces and the expressiveness of their hands. What does each know, and not know, or fear to know? What result does each seek?
John was one who always caught on, whose capacity to guess at what Jesus meant was greater than that of any of the other disciples … except perhaps Mary of Bethany. John loved Jesus by understanding Him – look at those eyes. Peter was he who often did not catch on – look at those eyes, but who moved toward Jesus anyway, wanting to stay near Him. Peter loved Jesus while misunderstanding him. Both are running and leaning towards the tomb, but with such different things happening, and hiddenly, within each!
What does this drama teach me?
The resurrection – the undeniable fact of it – necessarily obliterates all theological language to do with the earning of, or deserving, God’s favor, which far too often saturates the consciousness of religious people and tempts the governance choices and rule-making of the churches. When I ponder these two disciples, I sense something of the obliteration of that consciousness expressing itself in those unshielded faces.
Such a consciousness expresses itself when people say or think, “If I do this good thing, then I will earn a grace from God … Who promised in justice (!) to deliver it to me if I act in this way.” (We like to remind God what He owes us … except when we fail Him.) And just as often, “If I do this bad thing, then God in justice will do that bad thing to me.” Or worse, “I am sure glad that I have understood and am doing my life correctly, because God in justice is (happily?) going to punish those who, unlike me, are bad, or who do not care as much as I do.” What a terrible, even lethal, mess such ways of understanding God create in us and in our churches!
The fact of the resurrection of Jesus would extirpate every clinging root of such “earn-thinking” or of “deserving.” I think of that profound explorer of God, St. Therese of Lisieux, OCD (1873-1897 – only twenty-four years alive), who once wrote:
This is the mystery of my vocation, my whole life, and especially the mystery of the privileges Jesus showered on my soul. He does not call those who are worthy but those whom He pleases or as St. Paul says: God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he will show pity to whom he will show pity. So then there is question not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God showing mercy” (Epistle to the Romans, chap. IX, v. 15 and 16).
Jesus did not earn the resurrection. And I am sure that Jesus would have sharply riposted to anyone who might have suggested that He deserved the resurrection, even though we could pile up the brightest and truest reasons why He, above all, did deserve it. But, it was never about His earning it, or about the Father owing His Son … or about the Father owing His Beloved Son anything.
It is worth our thinking long and hard about this.
And we …
37 Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
and we all who benefitted eternally because the Father raised His Beloved Son, and Who now sits at the right hand of the Father, have absolutely no claim to have earned what now is ours because of the resurrection: access to the Father directly.
44 Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, 45 and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. 46 I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness. 
What we have earned, to be honest, is death by our complicity in His – “Crucify him!”; what we have earned is to be forgotten by God – “But Peter denied it saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him’.” (Luke 22:57). Yet what Christ freely gave us was unearned access to His Father, what could not be earned or deserved, or ever imagined as possible by an “earning” consciousness.
The justly famous Easter proclamation, the Exsultet, captures with crystalline luminance the moment when sheer grace has begun to obliterate the persistent language of “earning” or of “deserving.” Never in any Christian literature do we see the verb “earned” so magnificently undermined, and so beautifully intoned by a single, clear voice raised in the darkened church at the Easter Vigil, on the first Sunday after the first full Moon after the vernal equinox:
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
Happy Easter, O children of Adam and Eve; awaken you children of God!
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
 For example, Luke 10:42 (NABRE): “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”
 Just the right verb here, “to obliterate” which the Oxford English Dictionary online defines: “To blot out (anything written, drawn, imprinted, etc.) so as to leave no distinct traces; to erase, delete, efface.” Our English word comes from the classical Latin verb oblīterāre (also oblitterāre) meaning “to cause to be forgotten, to cause to disappear, efface.”
 A wonderfully vivid word, “to extirpate,” which the Oxford English Dictionary online defines: “To pull or pluck up by the roots; to root up, destroy, or remove root and branch (a tree, plant).” The roots of “earning” consciousness go deep into the churches and their laws and customs, and sometimes even into the most sacred and important texts we have – our liturgical texts: “we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb “to earn”: “To deserve or merit (praise, a blessing, etc.); to obtain as a result of behaviour or conduct.”
 St. Therese of Lisieux (2013-09-20). Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux (p. 13). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.
 A verb used in the sport of Fencing, as the Oxford English Dictionary online notes: “To make a riposte (riposte n. 1) or return thrust at one’s opponent.”
 New American Bible (Revised Edition.; Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mt 21:37–38.
 New American Bible (Revised Edition.; Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 12:44–46.
 For the full text of the Exsultet (the first word in Latin of the Proclamation), which is sung by a solo voice, without musical accompaniment, in a darkened church at the Easter Vigil Service, and while he or she stands next to the just-lit Easter/Paschal candle, see: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/easter/easter-proclamation-exsultet.cfm.