Finding Inspiration in the World’s Great Art
Running Towards Life
By René Breuel in “The Heart of Faith”
I was flipping a book at a friend’s house one day—one of those fancy editions that even smell new—when an image took hold of me. It shows two men running early in the morning, with their hair bowing to the wind, and one of them holds his hands tightly together. But what grabbed me were their eyes: a complex pool of doubt, hope, faith, bewilderment, surprise, perplexity, amazement. They are the eyes of two men running into something.
The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection, has been the most celebrated painting of Eugène Burnand, and for a good reason. Burnand has been able to condense in a moment something of the range of emotions of someone who hears that the master they’ve just seen suffer and die two days before has actually come to life. It is a charged moment. A difficult faith, a wondrous impossibility. Bits and pieces of conversations and prophecies come into place, but with an unexpected twist: a risen Savior, gushing forth life out of an empty tomb.
I can only imagine something of thoughts flowing in Peter’s and John’s minds as they race to check out the news. An empty tomb? Has someone stolen the body? Maybe the women are too emotional with the whole thing, or they went to the wrong tomb. Hold on, Jesus talked something about rising again one day. And He talked about eternal life too. Oooohhh, eternal life. But can it really be, back from the dead?
It is hard to imagine the intensity of that moment, the smell of the cemetery, feeling the texture of the white cloth lying in the tomb by itself. At the same time, I think we have our own set of questions as our minds follow Peter and John in that morning. I guess we have our own set of complex emotions. Our faith bumps into surprise and dances with doubt, like Peter’s and John’s. It is shaky and shallow; it forgets and gets distracted. But the texture of our faith is not what matters most, I’d say. What matters is the ground on which it stands: an empty tomb, a risen Messiah, a conqueror of death. A reality transfixed with new, overflowing life, a world charged with magnetic hope. We may worry more about food or impressing people or the next Facebook update, but Jesus rose from the dead, and that is news radiant forevermore.
Eugène Burnand reveled in the variety of God’s creation and a terrible war had given him a unique opportunity to record it. — Doug Jenkinson
Artist Eugene Burnand painted Peter and John running to the tomb. Burnand’s painting the men’s faces show contending emotions--anguish and relief, despair and wonder, and sorrow, especially on Peter’s face as he had denied the Lord. Their gaze is eagerly fixed forward, and their bending forms turn the attention to the empty sepulcher—and to a living Savior.
The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection, (1898)
Eugène Burnand • Musée d'Orsay