One of the forms of prayer I use is to try to imagine myself inside the story, especially a Gospel story. What would it have been like to be Mary of Magdala in the story from today's Gospel (John 20:1-9)? It is still dark as she approaches Jesus' grave in the garden. Mary is probably with a friend or family member as she approaches the tomb -- imagine yourself accompanying her. Think about what kind of grief Mary must have been experiencing at Jesus' unjust trial, horrific torture, and barbaric death on the cross. Her pain must have been immeasurable. To top it all off, she discovers Jesus' tomb has been opened. Her reaction tells us she immediately suspects Jesus' body has been removed by someone else. As if Jesus hadn't suffered enough in life, perhaps Mary thought, now her Lord's tomb is desecrated too!
What about Simon Peter? In the Gospel story, John says Simon did not even enter the tomb, but just peered in to see the burial cloths, then walked away with the Beloved Disciple. Was he confused? Shocked? Frightened? In any case, it seems he doesn't know what to do with the thought that Jesus is not in his tomb. Imagine yourself in Simon Peter's frame of mind; the last few days have been a confusing whirlwind of events and emotions, not to mention the shame of having denied Jesus, just as Jesus said Simon Peter would.
The Beloved Disciple enters the tomb, and right away he believes! How does he know to believe? What speaks to him about the empty tomb that leads him to believe? Is it the careful arrangement of the burial cloths that lead him to believe that the body was not stolen, but rather that Jesus is alive somehow? Is he hoping against hope? Then, he and Simon Peter leave.
We have the benefit of knowing what happens next -- Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead into new life as God has promised. But imagine what emotions the three disciples of Jesus in this Gospel story must have felt at this point: confusion, heartache, grief, ill at ease and worry or even wonder about what would happen next, discouragement, excitement, hope, but also disbelief. What would I have felt at this point? What would any of Jesus' disciples have felt?
While I imagine myself in this scene, I am not sure I would have wanted to experience firsthand the tragic, gut-wrenching, and heart shattering events that led up to Jesus' resurrection. On the other hand, being among the first to experience and receive the good news -- the amazing and world-changing news -- of Jesus' resurrection would also have been astounding and even too overwhelming to comprehend!
2000 years later, it's still hard to fully internalize the good news. In our Father's wisdom, perhaps this is why he made the Easter season last for fifty days -- just so we could begin to grasp the fullness of his love for us!