St Dunstan’s

Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England

St Dunstan's James Tomkins 2

James’ Message

Dear Friends,

Later this month sees the running of the 38th London Marathon. The original marathon was a life-and-death run to share good news. The word "marathon" comes from the historical legend of the Greek runner-messenger Pheidippides. Around the year 490 B.C., an enormous Persian army landed on the plain of Marathon, menacing the city of Athens, just 25 miles away. The Athenians prepared for a climactic battle that would determine the fate of their civilization. Against all odds, the vastly outnumbered Athenian army defeated the Persians in battle.

After the battle, in a story more likely fable than fact, a runner named Pheidippides was dispatched to carry the good news of the victory to the terrified residents of Athens. Pheidippides ran the entire 25 miles across the plain of Marathon to the city. When he arrived, exhausted and dehydrated, Pheidippides burst into the city assembly, and with his last breath he shouted, "Rejoice! We conquered!" And then he collapsed and died.

Hopefully this year's London Marathon will be less dramatic than this, but the  race always produces some heart-warming stories of individual bravery, compassion and perseverance. Running a marathon requires months of preparation, several long runs lasting a few hours at a time and a certain doggedness not to give up on cold and wet winter days.

You may be surprised that running features in the Gospels. Think of the way Peter and John sprint to Jesus' tomb on Easter morning amid the confusing reports that Jesus' body is gone, wanting to see the empty tomb with their own eyes. Think of the women who ran away from Jesus' empty tomb in "fear and great joy" to tell the other disciples that their Lord had risen from the dead. Then there are others whom the good news of Jesus sets running out of sheer joy at what they have found and out of a desire to share that joy with others.

Later in the Bible the Apostle Paul, writing his letter to the Philippians, imagines his whole life as a kind of long and arduous marathon, and he pictures himself as a runner straining forward to break the tape at the finish line, trusting that it's all worth the pain. "Forgetting what lies behind," he says, "and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward … the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus". What Paul had come to realise is he'd been running for the wrong prize and that he'd been running in the wrong direction. Paul's life had been turned around by Jesus and he now had a new prize that he was running after. "I want to know Christ," he wrote. He had a new focus, and a new way of understanding his life.

We travel along life's pathways in different ways and at difference speeds. As you celebrate Easter this year, may you take the peace, joy and perseverance of Jesus with you at whatever pace, walking or running, you decide to journey through life. And like Paul, may you come to know that Jesus is already victorious. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has already won the race that we are taking part in and is willing to share the prize of eternal life with everyone.

With all good wishes,