The Empty Tomb and the Folded Cloth…
It’s Easter, 2021. This week, we have been reviewing the different things that happened during the final days before the death of Jesus. Today, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. Almost all Christians know the Easter story. The Scripture tells us that various people arrive at the tomb on the third day and according to the Gospel accounts, the stone in front of the tomb was rolled away; the tomb was empty. Did somebody steal the body of Jesus? Did the guards do something to hide the body of Jesus? No – we later find out that Jesus rose from the dead!
Well, according the to angels who were at the grave, the tomb was empty – Jesus was no longer there. He had risen! He was alive! By the way, this is what separates Christianity from many of the other world religions. Many faith traditions have dead founders. But we serve a living God – one who has overcome death and will reign forever. He is Jesus – our intercessor with the Father. He is also the one who informed us that God the Father would send the Holy Spirit to us and this came to pass at Pentecost, a short time in the future at what we recognize as the beginning of the church.
But tonight, I want to focus on an often overlooked detail of the Easter story. It has to do with the napkin, or cloth, that was placed over the face of Jesus in the tomb. While our traditions today may have changed, every Jewish person would have understood the importance of the folded cloth in the tomb.
The Hebrew convention of the day was for a servant to set the table for a meal according to the wishes of the master. The servants would stay just out of sight and attend to the needs of the master as the meal progressed. When the meal was finished, the master would wad up his napkin and place it on the table. The message was clear – I am done, finished and not coming back.
However, if the master was leaving the table, but would return, he would neatly fold the napkin and place it carefully on the table. This message was also clear – I am not finished – I will be back!
In the apostle John’s account of that Easter morning, he and Peter were approaching the empty tomb. John arrived first and saw strips of linen where the body of Jesus had been. But John didn’t enter the tomb… Peter, close behind, arrived shortly thereafter and entered the tomb, noticing the strips of linen, in addition to something else. The burial cloth that had covered the face of Jesus was neatly folded and placed apart from the rest of the burial linen.
John goes into detail when he shares with us, in John 20:6-8, “Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.”
Any Jewish boy of the day would have understood the meaning of the folded cloth napkin. Jesus was not done – he was coming back! Death couldn’t contain Him. My encouragement tonight is that the Bible is full of obscure references and facts that we all tend to overlook – many times, because we have heard or read the account so many times that we glance over the details of the various stories. But God wants us to take time and study His word – getting as much as we can from this God inspired book, with the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us. My prayer tonight is that we will celebrate Easter every day – not just today – and that we will rejoice in the Risen Lord each day for the rest of our eternal lives. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…