“… the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself” (John 20:7)
Today, Easter Sunday, the Christian Church formally celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. But we should practice Easter every Sunday as “little Easters,” as we take time to focus on how the resurrection that we say we believe in is actually lived out in our lives throughout the year.
As Christians, we believe in the historical Jesus and the cultural context within which He lived, as well as in the divine person of Christ Jesus who gifts us with salvation and eternal life. Therefore, Jesus, the man, was a reflection in many ways of the culture within which He was born and lived.
John 20:7 shows us one instance of how Jesus used the customs and culture of His time to teach with parables, to spread His message, and to prove His divinity and His return to earth again. The Gospel of John (20:7 RSV, NKJV) tells us that the napkin/handkerchief, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the other grave clothes. John takes great care to tell us that the napkin, which covered His head, was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of that stony coffin.
According to John, early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She found Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord's body out of the tomb, and I don't know where they have put Him!”
Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb. The other disciple got there first, and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in. When Simon Peter arrived, he went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus' head was folded up and lying to the side, away from the other wrappings.
Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection? Was that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes!
To understand the significance of the folded napkin, we need to know about the Hebrew culture of Jesus’ day. Every Jewish person knew the meaning of the folded napkin. When the servant set the dinner table for the master, the servant made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. Then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating. The servant would not dare touch the table until the master was finished. When the master was finished eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers and mouth, clean his beard, and wad up the napkin and toss it onto the table. Only then, the servant would clear the table. The wadded napkin meant, “I’m finished.” But if the master got up from the table, 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!”
Let us be reminded daily that Jesus Christ is “Not Finished.”
He is coming back for His faithful servants.