Gospel Contemplation: The Empty Tomb

Today's guided contemplation is based on John's account of the empty tomb, which is proclaimed at Easter Sunday Masses. If you feel drawn to pray with a version of the resurrection that includes an encounter with the risen Lord, a guided contemplation based on the gospel of Matthew, which is proclaimed at the Easter Vigil, can be found here.



Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.

If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.

If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.

Quiet your body and mind

  • Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
  • Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
  • Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
  • Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.

Ask for a grace

  • Ask God for the grace to believe in resurrection.

Read the scripture passage

Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.

John 20:1-9

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 towards 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.

Imaginative Contemplation

We begin in the dark. The darkness has been present for some time, and loss and grief have been our companions. But today it is dark also because it is early. You have woken up to go with Mary Magdalene to the tomb where Jesus was laid. As you walk with her through the garden, can you see any of your surroundings?
What sounds can you hear – birds, insects, the sound of your feet? What’s the temperature like?
What can you smell on the air?
Do you and Mary talk as you go, or keep company in silence?
Take a moment to really experience yourself there in the garden, walking with Mary toward the tomb.


As you walk, call to mind the events of the last few days – Jesus’ crucifixion, the loss in the wake of his death. What might have motivated you to join Mary in going to the tomb today?


You reach the tomb, but the stone has been moved from the entrance. How do you react to this discovery?

You and Mary run to where you know Peter and the others are. Breathlessly you tell him what you have found. Mary voices a concern that Jesus’ body might have been stolen. You all run together back to the tomb, and the beloved disciple arrives first. He waits for Peter, though, who enters the tomb. You enter after, along with the beloved disciple. What is it like inside the tomb? As your eyes adjust, you see the linen wrappings, rolled up and put aside. Jesus’ body is not there. How does this affect you? What are you thinking and feeling?


You remember Jesus’ predictions, and talk of rising from the dead. Is it possible to hope? Is it possible to believe? What can Jesus' resurrection mean for your life?


Take a few moments to talk with the other disciples about what has happened, or even with the risen Christ. Share what you are thinking and feeling, and listen to the response.
And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.

Review of Prayer

St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.

Some questions to assist with your review:

What happened in your prayer?

What feelings did you experience?

During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?

When did you feel discouraged?

Did you receive the grace you asked for?

What did you receive?

Music License

Music for Manatees by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4102-music-for-manatees
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license