John chapter 20 is the next to last chapter of the four gospels. What a great time it has been
studying the earthly life of Jesus. Before we get into the topic of the day, rituals, let’s take a short journey into the first five books of the Old Testament - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books gave God’s chosen people laws to live by. And there were a lot of laws! By following these laws, the covenant God made with His people would remain in tact. Slowly, however, these laws became rituals. Some of the rituals signified the completion of a task, and others sent a message. Nowadays, as back then, we all have rituals or traditions, especially around the holidays, birthdays, and the ceremonial taking of Holy Communion.
One ritual God’s people made sure they performed correctly was the preparation of a deceased persons body for burial. Part of the process included making sure the burial took place within a certain time frame, that the body was wrapped in linen, that spices were added, and that the tomb be new and unused. I’m sure that there were more we could add to that process, but you get the picture.
After Pilot had confirmed that Jesus was dead, he gave permission to Joseph of Arimathia to
bury the body. Nicodemus helped Joseph, and they placed Jesus in Joseph’s new tomb -
wrapped in linen with spices. A stone was then rolled into place to cover the opening. Mary
Magdalene watched as all this took place on the day of preparation.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James and Salome, went to the grave with spices that they had prepared. When they arrived, the stone had been rolled
away, and the body of Jesus was not there. Mary Magdalene ran and told Peter and John that
the tomb was empty. Not believing her, Peter and John ran to the tomb and discovered that the stone, in fact, had been rolled away. Peter looked inside and saw the burial linen but no Jesus. The burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head was laying folded on the ground away from the linen. Peter, being so upset at not knowing where Jesus was, ran away, not thinking about what he had seen in the tomb. You’re probably thinking, “what did he see?”
Let’s go back to the rituals of that time. When there was a feast being prepared, the servants
made sure that everything was in order and in the right place. As the master and guest sat
down to eat, there were no surprises. Once the master finished eating, he wiped his hands and wadded up the napkin and placed it on the plate. This was the signal that the servant could start clearing the table. If, for some reason, the master had to leave the table before he was finished, he would fold his napkin and place it on the plate. Seeing the folded napkin, the
servant knew that his master was not through with his meal and that he would be returning.
How great a message did Jesus leave us, that He is not finished and He will be returning. And
all through the ritual of “the folded napkin” reflected there in the empty tomb.
I hope everyone has a great day. God Bless. Be safe. Be Well.