Easter Sunday: A Folded Napkin????

Hello Friends,

Happy Easter! Or as my niece likes to tell me, “Hoppy Easter!” Did the Easter Bunny come visit you? Did you find any eggs or a basket filled with goodies today? Growing up, I remember searching for eggs and my basket before going to church in the morning with my family. It was always such an exciting time to do that tradition with my siblings! (Sometimes I thought to myself that my siblings would constantly move my Easter Basket to places that I had already look in….but I guess it was the Easter Bunny!)

For today’s lesson, I encourage you to think about napkins! You heard me correctly: I said napkins. I will explain in a little bit, but first let me share with you what happened on the that first Easter morning…. John 20:1-10 reads, “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’s 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. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”

From our text, we read that Mary has come to the tomb and sees the stone has been rolled away. She rushes back and tells Peter and John that someone has stolen his body. John outruns Peter to the tomb – stops at the entrance – stoops down, looks in – sees the linen clothes lying on the floor of the tomb, but won’t go any farther. Finally Peter gets to the tomb – probably not slowing down one step – he enters the tomb and sees the same burial clothes that John has seen, but then he sees something different – over there – the cloth that had covered Jesus’ face – folded up in a place by itself. Verse eight tells us that John then goes into the tomb with Peter, “…and he saw, and believed.”

Have you ever given much thought to the piece of material that is folded or rolled up in the tomb of Christ, the one that Peter saw? Why is it that this piece of material is folded and placed to the side instead of being wadded up and placed amongst the other burial cloths? I came across an explanation last week regarding this single detail mentioned by John. Why Did Jesus roll up the cloth or in some translations, “napkin”? Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection? The King James Version, tells us in the Gospel of John (20:7) that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed separate from the grave clothes.

Was that important? Absolutely!  Is it really significant? Yes! Let me tell you why. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and 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. If the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because the folded napkin meant, ‘I’m coming back!’

Can I tell you a secret? When I use a napkin, I don’t wad it up. Do any of you wad up your napkins? I fold my napkins while I use them and then place them on my plate when I am done. Do any of you fold your napkins when you are using them? I know, it’s strange. Who folds up a dirty napkin only to have it thrown away?! Jesus could have wadded up that cloth/napkin after he removed it from his face and thrown it in the pile with the rest of the cloths, like we do with our dirty and smelly clothes sometimes. But, instead, he folded it to remind us that he is coming back. Through that piece of material/cloth/napkin, Jesus made a promise with us; and that promise is that he is not done yet and that he is coming back!

The resurrection is a promise: it is a commitment, it is a new beginning, it is a covenant fulfilled, it is a gift, and it is an act of love. The resurrection is real and it lives today and every day within our heart. But the question we have to ask ourselves is, “How do we treat the resurrection of Christ?” Do we wad it up and place it amongst the other things in our life: put to the side and neglected until Easter rolls around the following year? Or do you fold it up, place it where we see it every day, and remind ourselves that he is coming back? That simple piece of cloth, possibly placed over Jesus’ face by Joseph of Arimathea, given an entire verse in the Bible, was and is more than a simple cloth, a napkin placed on a table or laid in an empty tomb. It is a promise, just like the resurrection, that Jesus is coming back: that Jesus’ resurrection is real and lives within our heart. Because of that single folded napkin, we have been given the promise to embrace our own resurrection.

The next time you use a napkin, take notice of how you use that napkin and whether or not you wad it up or fold it. Jesus folds his napkins/cloths because he isn’t done yet, there is still more to come, a promise to fulfill. I wonder if folding my napkin or even my clothes means that I am like Jesus?

Have a wonderful and hoppy Easter!

Your Friend, Holy Spirit!


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