There are certain passages of the Bible that you can read time and time again and you read them for the 50th time and something hits you anew. Most of us have read the Easter Story over and over again. So there is probably little I can tell you about it. However, I learnt something new about it this year that I wanted to pass on!
John 20: 3-9
3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
I’ve read this passage many times and the two things that have struck me are these. Why does it mention that the cloth that covered Jesus’ head was folded up separately? Why does the other disciple go into an open tomb and suddenly believe, especially as we are also told that the still did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead. I think I would have a pile of questions not a belief!! Where was Jesus, who has got his body, why has someone removed his clothes?
Perhaps it’s just me, but even if I had thought he had come back from the dead I would have been thinking - OK Jesus has risen from the dead- and the first thing he did was to rip off his grave clothes but then stop to neatly fold up the napkin that was around his head? So why weren’t the disciples thinking that? They weren’t thinking that because the knew things that I didn’t! The disciples lived in a culture that I simply don’t know enough about.
In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, we have to understand a little bit about Hebrew culture of the day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this. 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, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished.
Now 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. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, "I'm finished.." 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!"
So the disciples didn’t think the grave had been robbed - the clear message that had been left for them in the tomb was “I’m Back!!”