“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” –John 20:1-9
I came across a piece of artwork this week that haunts me. My comments will betray the fact that I am no connoisseur of art, so prepare yourself. I will fully admit that I cannot wax eloquently on the elements that make a piece of artwork extraordinary. All I can tell you is this: The men's expressions in this image speak to me.
The piece is entitled, The Disciples Running to the Sepulchre, and it is housed in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. In it, artist Eugene Burnand captures well what it must have felt like for Simon Peter and John to approach Jesus’s empty tomb.
I am struck by these individuals’ postures. They are leaning forward, eager to make sense of what they had been told. Peter’s expression is one of bewilderment. John looks concerned and uncertain. Both of them look as though they are pressing forward into a headwind, their thoughts not able to keep up with the unfolding reality before them.
John, in particular, holds my attention. His hands, clasped to his chest, suggest a hope that he seems hesitant to fully embrace. His eyes, squinting against the wind, are peering into the distance. Behind his gaze, we sense a question forming: “Could it be?”
Easter raises questions for us. We know that the resurrection of Jesus means something. But what, exactly, does it mean? What does it mean that God defeated death? How does that impact our lives? What impact does the resurrection have on our day to day routines?
The scripture confirms our hunch about this moment. The two disciples, upon investigating the empty tomb, have a hard time grasping what has happened and what that means for what should happen next. “For as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
In the spirit of Easter, and in life on this side of an empty tomb, we should be slow to jump to conclusions about the resurrection, and even more reluctant to dismiss the events of Easter as something we should somehow accept without question. In other words, the resurrection is something we should take seriously. We should give ourselves space to contemplate the reality that God can redeem everything. Yes, everything (apparently)…even and especially death.
Consider using this piece of art to prompt a contemplative prayer as you consider, like all disciples throughout the ages, what all this means.