Summary: Jesus wants us to know he is coming back!
I’d like for you to venture back w/ me this morning to those minutes, hours and days just prior to the resurrection of our Lord. What was it like & what were those who loved Jesus feeling? He had, after all just been killed in a most gruesome fashion: hanging on a cross. It was now their responsibility to take him down from the cross & move him to a place where he would be buried. But where?
Fortunately, Joseph of Arimathea offered a tomb he had built for himself. He, along with Nicodemus, removed the body, took it to the new tomb, prepared it for burial and wrapped it in the linen. Then, as part of the ritual, they wrapped a burial cloth, or a napkin, around his face.
They left the tomb, possibly rolling the stone into place, & walked away, remembering what Jesus had meant to them, remembering what he had done for so many…& for all intents and purposes, it was over. He was dead & sealed in a tomb. How could all the things he had talked about possibly come to pass? The love they felt for Jesus was translated into a deep sorrow in his loss. A heaviness weighed upon them, and I’m sure they cried the inconsolable tears of the bereaved. His life, his ministry, was over.
Elsewhere, the disciples & those who love Jesus were also in deep sorrow…the pain of his murder racks their minds & their emotions, for they have not held onto the promise he made, they have forgotten that he said he would rise again.
3 days pass…3 long days for Mary & Peter & John & all the others. Most are in hiding for fear that what happened to Jesus will happen to them. All of them reeling from the suddenness of the events that have overtaken them.
But one person ventures out. Our text tells us that "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark Mary Magdalene went to the tomb…” Other Gospel texts tell us other women were with her, and I’m sure there were. But for this morning we will concentrate on her.
She walks in darkness & we can almost feel the darkness pressing down on her & the misery she bears as she trudges toward the tomb. She wants to be there…she has to be there…this, after all, was her Lord and Master and it is the least she could do for him…to come and grieve at his tomb and pay her final respects, only to discover “…that the stone had been removed…”
There is shock & disbelief in the sight lying before her. Filled w/ fear, perhaps even angry, she runs to notify the disciples of this despicable act: Someone has “taken the Lord out of the tomb!” Peter & John quickly return, w/ Mary, to the tomb, finding nothing but jumbled grave clothes, lying where they should be, & they realize that Mary’s words are not some wild tale.
But wait, not everything was as it should be. Something was out of place.
Verses 6 & 7 go into great detail to tell us what Peter witnessed when he looked 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, separated from the linen.”
That’s one of those peculiar pieces of scriptural information that reaches out to grab us & says, “Not so fast. Don’t skim over me. Don’t just take me at face value & leave.” There must be a reason why the Bible takes two verses to inform us that the cloth around Jesus’ head has been neatly folded & set aside.
Think about it. Jesus has just been resurrected…he’s shaking out all the cricks & kinks from his three day death…he takes a look around himself & says, “I think I’ll leave the burial linen where it‘s at, but I don’t want to leave the tomb too big of a mess so I think I’ll take the napkin & neatly fold it up. There, that should give it just the right touch. Don’t want to be a slacker.”
I don’t think so. So why wasn’t it left lying where the body had been like the grave clothes? What’s the significance of picking up this singular item & folding it? I mean, that’s almost like drying a whole batch of laundry, taking out one wash cloth & folding, & leaving the rest. It causes one to ask the question: Why did Jesus fold only the linen burial cloth after his resurrection? & the little information I was able to come across indicates the answer’s important. Here’s what I read: In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do w/ the Master & Servant relationship, & every Jewish boy knew this tradition. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, & then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, & the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, & clean his beard, & would wad up that napkin & toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, "I’m done". But if the master got up from the table, & folded his napkin, & laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because.......... The folded napkin meant, "I’m not finished! I’m coming back!"