I got to share the story of a folded napkin & Jesus’ resurrection this morning! Here it is:
28 “After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. 2 Earlier there had been an earthquake. A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. 3 He veritably glowed. He was vibrating with light. His clothes were light, white like transfiguration, like fresh snow. 4 The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone.
5 The messenger spoke to the women, to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.
Messenger of the Lord: Don’t be afraid. I know you are here keeping watch for Jesus who was crucified. 6 But Jesus is not here. He was raised, just as He said He would be. Come over to the grave, and see for yourself.7 And then go straight to His disciples, and tell them He’s been raised from the dead and has gone on to Galilee. You’ll find Him there. Listen carefully to what I am telling you.
8 The women were both terrified and thrilled, and they quickly left the tomb and went to find the disciples and give them this outstandingly good news.”
“2 Mary Magdalene darted out of the garden to find Simon Peter and the dearly loved disciple to deliver this startling news.
Mary Magdalene: They have taken the body of our Lord, and we cannot find Him!
3 Together, they all departed for the tomb to see for themselves. 4 They began to run, and Peter could not keep up. The beloved disciple arrived first 5 but did not go in. There was no corpse in the tomb, only the linens and cloths He was wrapped in. 6 When Simon Peter finally arrived, he went into the tomb and observed the same:7 the cloth that covered His face appeared to have been folded carefully and placed, not with the linen cloths, but to the side. 8 After Peter pointed this out, the other disciple (who had arrived long before Peter) also entered the tomb; and based on what he saw, faith began to well up inside him! 9 Before this moment, none of them understood the Scriptures and why He must be raised from the dead. 10 Then they all went to their homes.”
As a kid, I never really used napkins. The food left on my fingers was either wiped onto my jeans, or licked off. Even now, I hardly use napkins. But my sister uses napkins, cloth napkins. It’s an effort to be earth-friendly and save money, not buying disposable napkins. I used to think using cloth napkins was silly, but after studying the Resurrection of Jesus, I am a big fan of cloth napkins.
In the Scripture reading, we have a story about a napkin…confused yet? It’s more commonly referred to as linen burial cloths, and these grave cloths were used to wrap around the body of the deceased. Two men, named Joseph and Nicodemus, covered the body of Jesus with a mixture of myrrh and aloes and bound the body in linen cloths. A cloth was placed over Jesus’ lifeless face and the body was left in the tomb.
What kind of thoughts must have gone through Mary’s mind then, when early in the morning she realized the stone was rolled away and an angel said of Jesus, “He is not here.”
He’s not here.
He, Jesus, the beloved Rabbi and Teacher, who was innocently beaten, spit on, and mocked. He, the One while hanging on a cross forgave his murderers. He, after sipping sour wine proclaimed “It is finished.”
He’s not here.
Here, the newly hewn tomb in the middle of a garden. Here, a low burial chamber representing death and the end. Here, a place of grief, mourning, and hopelessness.
He’s not here.
Luckily, the angel didn’t stop there.
“Jesus is not here. He was raised, just as He said He would be. Come over to the grave, and see for yourself.”
What an invitation! Come over and see for yourself.
And when the disciples Peter and John finally made it to the grave, they did see for themselves. They saw burial cloths, the bands of linen and the face cloth.
If we just rush past the description of the cloths, we miss the richness and beauty of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Gospel of John tells us 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 at the head of that stony coffin.
Was that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes!
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 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.
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 done’.
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 let me read again this beautiful passage.
3 “Together, they all departed for the tomb to see for themselves. 4 They began to run, and Peter could not keep up. The beloved disciple John arrived first 5 but did not go in. There was no corpse in the tomb, only the linens and cloths He was wrapped in. 6 When Simon Peter finally arrived, he went into the tomb and observed the same:7 the cloth that covered His face appeared to have been folded carefully and placed, not with the linen cloths, but to the side. 8 After Peter pointed this out, John also entered the tomb; and based on what he saw, faith began to well up inside him! 9 Before this moment, none of them understood the Scriptures and why He must be raised from the dead.”
This is so significant. We can’t miss this! Yes, Easter is about new life, hope, and resurrection. Yes, it’s about redemption, victory, and freedom.
But Easter is also about napkins. It’s about the promise we have today. Jesus is not in the grave. He is not there. Death has been defeated. Shame, guilt, shackles, and the grave, that is finished. Thank God for the promise we have through the napkin. The folded face cloth is Jesus’ way of saying “I’m coming back!”
Oh that faith would well up inside us this Easter morning!
May we remember the words of Jesus before he died, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”
May the folded napkin remind you of the promise, the hope that is for you this Sunday morning. Jesus is alive. And he’s preparing a place for us. He hasn’t forgotten us or left us as orphans. We need that promise. Because as joyous as this morning can be, with trumpets and Easter lilies and delicious meals with family, a part of our heart feels sad. If we’re really honest with ourselves, regardless of it being Easter, we feel heartbreak, whether due to rejection, a miscarriage, or a final goodbye. It matters not why our heart is heavy. No kind word can undo what has happened. And that’s okay.
Because absolutely nothing can undo what Jesus has done. His work on the cross and His victory over death are complete and forever. This life, this heartbreak is on this side of heaven. Jesus is preparing a place for us on the other side without the heartbreak, the striving, and the pain. Praise God!
So no matter where you are today, no matter what you’re going through today, may you take a folded napkin and whisper to Jesus “Thank you for this promise.” He’s alive! And because He lives, we also will live!