The Easter scripture we read yesterday came from John’s gospel. There was a detail there that got no mention in my sermon. But on Mondays I have the opportunity to say things I didn’t have time to say on Sunday.
The detail is this: ” . . . the napkin, which had been on his head [was found] not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself” (John 20:7).
In other words, when the lifeless body of Jesus was removed from the cross and placed in the tomb, a napkin was placed over his face. The burial cloth that covered his body was found thrown in a heap, but not this napkin. It was carefully “folded up” and left “in a place by itself”.
Why this detail?
Russ Hutchison helped me with this. He made me aware of a Hebrew tradition of that day. Every Jewish boy would have been familiar with this tradition.
When the servant set the table for the master, he would wait out of sight while the master was eating, appearing when needed but not bothering the master needlessly (kind of like a good server in one of our nicer restaurants.)
But here is the tradition that relates to John 20:7. If the master was done with his meal, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, mouth, and beard, then wad up the napkin, and toss it on the table. That would signal to the servant that it was time to clear the table. A wadded napkin was a way of saying, “I’m done”.
However, if the master got up from the table, carefully folded his napkin, and placed it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch that table. Because the folded napkin had a clear meaning. It meant, “I’m coming back.”
“Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!”
Happy Easter week to you all!