Imagining the Gospel: Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord

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“Imagining the Gospel Scene” is a series from the Jesuit Media Lab. On occasional Sundays throughout this liturgical year, creators in the JML community will respond to the day’s Gospel passage through the practice of Ignatian contemplation, or what is sometimes called “imaginative prayer.”

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola invites participants to place ourselves in Gospel scenes using the imagination, relying on our senses to develop a distinctive, personal perspective on a given story — and thereby getting to know Christ better. After praying with the Gospel using their imaginations, our contributors will create a piece of art flowing from their experience — a painting, poem, short story, song, photograph or work in another medium.

Easter Sunday
March 31, 2024: John 20:1-9

I always feel it’s best to read something aloud. It unlocks a version of a text that is inaccessible when you’re just looking at letters on a page. Sound and especially music have the ability to lift us up in ways that literal meaning can’t. This is particularly true of Scripture whose best form has always been a grand oral tradition, one that we as a church have codified in our Liturgy of the Word.

Think back to the early days of the church, when few people were educated enough to be literate. Scores of believers relied entirely upon those who could read and write to communicate the sacred Scriptures to them. Those people had a tremendous responsibility to orate the Gospels to their various audiences, and it was surely these oral interpretations that created the initial sense of what the Gospels were. In many ways, the liturgy is like a piece of theater — how one performs it colors the way people come to understand the deeper mysteries.

Take our Easter Sunday reading as a prime example. On the page, it is compelling enough to be sure — the tale of Mary Magdalene’s discovery of Christ’s empty tomb and the disciples rushing to investigate. But when you read it aloud, you can take your time — and when you take your time, you start to visualize just how dramatic the action is. There are a few occasions in the Gospels where you truly get a sense of urgency: Joseph’s decision to stay wedded to Mary instead of quietly divorcing her; Mary’s search for the young Jesus when she loses track of him in Jerusalem; Jesus learning of his friend Lazarus’ death and going to see him.

The Three Women at the Tomb of Christ, Irma Martin, 1843, public domain

This is certainly one of those times — and the urgency is covered in a web of emotions: shock, dismay, curiosity and, most importantly, hope. Easter is not only the time when Christ rises from the dead. It is also the resurrection of hope, the return of good things. Imagine yourself as Peter and the beloved disciple: What must it have felt like to hear Mary Magdalene’s news? Place yourself in a preacher’s shoes: How can you deliver this Gospel in a way that can bring hope to people who are in dire straits? In that urgent conveyance of hope lies the beauty of this Easter passage.

Top art: The Resurrection, Sebastiano Ricci, 1715, public domain

Kevin Christopher Robles is a writer and production associate at America magazine, where he produces videos and podcasts. A lifelong New York Catholic, he attended Regis High School and received a B.A. in English at Fordham University.

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Kevin Christopher Robles is a writer and production associate at America magazine, where he produces videos and podcasts. A lifelong New York Catholic, he attended Regis High School and received a B.A. in English at Fordham University.