Folded Grave Clothes

Happy Easter! Christ is risen! Praying you will have an extremely blessed Resurrection Sunday today!

This is the day that we celebrate an empty tomb. On the first day of the week, which was a Sunday, some women went to the tomb of Jesus Christ expecting to anoint His body with spices.

As they walked together, they discussed among themselves who might move the heavy stone which had been placed over the entrance. They had probably expected the Roman guards to help them.

When they arrived, the stone had already been moved…

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. 2 Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from the sky and came and rolled away the stone from the door and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him, the guards shook, and became like dead men. 5 The angel answered the women, “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying.

Matthew 28:1-6 (NIVUK)

Many have asked over the years, “Who moved the stone?” But Matthew makes it clear – the angel did. But why?

Jesus did not need the stone to be moved to escape the tomb. We read the following in John’s Gospel:

When therefore it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the middle, and said to them, “Peace be to you.”

John 2:19 (NIVUK)

It seems that Jesus’ resurrected body can do things that our mortal bodies cannot. He seemingly went into them, despite a locked door, and so it would be no feat for Him to escape the tomb with the entrance still sealed.

The answer is simple. The angel moved the stone not for Jesus’ benefit, but for the women. He wanted them to see into the tomb and see that Christ was indeed gone. Dead bodies cannot get up and walk away, and so Jesus must have returned to life. We can easily dispute the claim that the disciples stole the body, not least because of the armed guards, but mainly because those same disciples went on to die for their cause. Fraudsters don’t generally do that.

There is another “mystery” I want to touch on before I finish today. Why fold the grave clothes?

Stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths lying, yet he didn’t enter in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and entered into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the cloth that had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself.

John 2:5-7 (NIVUK)

We were studying this passage at a home group once. I asked about the linen which had been folded up, wondering if this was significant. We discussed a few ideas, including the tidiness of Christ! Years later, I heard another idea which seems plausible to me.

When at a nice meal with several courses, you will more than likely have a linen napkin to use. Between courses, you might keep the napkin nicely folded to the side of your setting so that the waiting staff know you are still using it. When you finish the meal, you might just put it down untidily to signal you no longer need it.

I understand that in the Jewish culture of the time, there was some similar custom in place. Folded linen suggested that Jesus was not quite done yet, and would be returning.

I am not certain how true this is, but it is interesting nonetheless. Jesus may have been signalling to the disciples that they would see Him soon, or perhaps He was pointing out that He would one day return to the Earth.

The point to take away today though is this: the grave clothes were empty – like the tomb. Jesus was no longer dead, but alive! He had risen!

This truth gives us all hope, and that if we put our trust in Jesus, we too will defeat death and rise to new life.

Let this Easter be a celebration of life and hope. He is risen indeed!

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