By Julie Cramer
A blast transfigured April 15 from the last day Americans have to pay their taxes to a day when heroism and cold-grit courage are remembered. At 2:49 p.m. the whole world exploded—or so it seemed for the marathoners who were steps away from crossing a finish line they had trained hard to earn, to throw their sweaty and fatigued arms around their loved ones to rejoice in a personal victory.
Twelve seconds later, it happened again. The world for the runners of the 116th annual Boston Marathon—either through witness of the horror or blood spilled—exploded, and all the terrain they had traveled to that point shuddered and split open under their feet.
Why does evil always seem to triumph?
As a runner, I had a visceral reaction to the video all of us watched of the explosion … but I had that reaction even before I witnessed that now infamous fireball. I watched as if I were running. I am not fast enough to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. I plod. I press forward; I cross-train; I do my best to improve; but I am limited by some Pennsylvania Dutch genes that have seemed to fill my bones with scrapple and cooking grease. I am a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other-er.
So to watch those men and women so close to the taste of relief fall or freeze or flee just yards—inches, even—from what they had worked so hard to win, set off a starting shot in me that raged in the face of injustice. They were at their most vulnerable—and most victorious—point in their race, and all the joy was blown sky-high. Something in that picture stuck to my bones, a thick and heavy sorrow. Then come to find out an 8-year-old and two others lost their lives to a weapon made out of a common kitchen appliance?
I just don’t get it.
I have been thinking of all the runners who had already crossed the line. I have been thinking of all those who had yet to finish and were thwarted, forced to turn back; of all the runners who gathered at tracks or trails across the nation to show solidarity for the souls with whom they so resonated. It could have been us. It could have been me. And even though it was not us this time, even though it was not me this time, we are certain that our time—no matter what the tragedy—will come.
Psalm 73 gives words to the question ringing in my heart like a starting shot: “[The wicked] have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.”
How can we attempt the body-breaking effort to run the race set before us as the Apostle Paul described, when we know bombs will burst at the moment at which we should receive our reward, our relief? Is it even worth it?
I have also been considering the story of the runners who kept on running after the blast—straight through to a hospital to give blood, to give life to another bleeding out. These men and women showed where the real finish line is … it is beyond evil. It is in resurrection.
Even the Boston Marathon’s fabled finish line has changed over time to accommodate a greater number of participants. The starting line dictated the finish line. As a follower of Christ and a fellow runner, I need to know the start and the finish, the beginning and the end.
And I do: He is called the Alpha and the Omega. His Son laid out the course and ran it straight through to resurrection. A torn veil and hands in healed wounds trump evil’s small-minded, savage attempts cooked up in someone’s kitchen to destroy.
What we know to be true as we absorb—yet again—soul-shocking violence: The race is not yet over. What seems to be the finish may be the start of running through, of running beyond our own limitations as well as the limits someone may want to force upon us.
When Paul was set to travel to Jerusalem, he told the elders of the church in Ephesus: “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of grace” (Acts 20:22–24).
Would I—knowing that prison, hardship, or death awaited me in every city—set one more foot in front of the other for the sake of grace?
If we follow Christ, we follow the One who walked through the fire of hell into his start and finish without end. He does for us—and through us—what we cannot do on our own. He can help us to run through a panicked crowd to give blood. He can help us confront an abuser, forgive a spouse, or ask for forgiveness. Because of him, we can pray instead of accuse, seek mercy instead of revenge, forsake lies for the truth. In ways such as these, we all run our race. And we can run it well.
In October I will run my first full marathon in Chicago. I will do so as a member of Team in Training, a group of people who want to help raise awareness of blood cancers. I will also run my first marathon as a member of a different team in training, a group of people who may never run a day in their lives, but who have seen beyond the finish into glory—who refuse to retreat and accept that the wicked prosper and win—and who have picked up their cross no matter what to follow the One who saves to an eternal finish.
Julie Cramer is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike most, she misses the Texas heat and long summers.