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The linen cloth and the Second Coming
In the Gospel accounts of Jesus' Passion, all four evangelists record that after His death on the Cross, Jesus was buried in a new tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea, a senior member of the Jewish community, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus.
As an observant and practising Jew, Jesus was buried according to the Jewish funeral rites, and after His body was washed, it was embalmed in myrrh and aloes before sunset on Good Friday, the day before Passover.
Mary Magdalene attended the tomb after the Sabbath, the first Easter Sunday, intending to embalm Jesus' body with oil.
In Jewish tradition, the deceased's body is dressed in plain white shrouds known as Tachrichim, which consists of cloths to cover the body completely, with bindings to hold the cloths to the body. These garments are hand-made from linen or muslin and are considered fitting for someone who is about to stand before God in judgment.
In addition to Tachrichim, a Jewish man is also buried with his Tallit (prayer shawl).
In John's Gospel, there are details which I regard as crucial, which are not included in the other accounts. After Mary Magdalene has reported to the apostles that the large stone had been moved from the entrance to the tomb, the apostles John and Peter ran to the tomb, and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there (Jn 20:6).
The next verse says, "And the linen cloth that had been around His head, [was] not lying with the other linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself." (Jn 20:7)
Every time I read these verses, I am astounded that I have never heard a Catholic priest, bishop or Protestant pastor comment on their significance.
I believe that nothing in the Scriptures is written without a purpose. Hence, the above differentiation between the folded linen cloth that had been around his head, and the other linen cloths, has a definite purpose.
Let me explain. Many of us know that the pattern of table setting that we use today - such as the way we set out the knife, fork, spoon and serviette around the plate - derives from the way that King Louis XIV, the "Sun King" of France, organised his table setting during the 17th century.
For formal dining, we do the same today.
Equally, Jesus being a faithful Jew, naturally followed the normal Jewish table manners. Thus, when a Jew finished his meal, because he ate with his right hand (the left hand being "unclean"), he would wipe his hands and simply cast his serviette, unfolded, onto the table before leaving.
This would be a clear signal to a servant that he can clear the table because his master has finished his meal.
On the other hand, should the master need to leave the table for some reason, with a view to returning to finish his meal, he would fold up his serviette, and leave it beside his plate. This was a clear indication that the master intended to return to complete his meal.
I believe that this is exactly what Jesus meant when, after rising from the dead, and before leaving the tomb, He left the linen cloth which had covered His head, neatly "folded together in a place by itself".
He meant to leave us the all-important message: "I shall return!"
This only highlights what Jesus had often taught us during His earthly ministry: that we should be awake, vigilant and always ready for the Master's return.
When he will return is known only by God the Father, but that He will return is certain.
Andrew Sholl is co-founder of the Association of Hebrew Catholics. He lives in Townsville, Queensland.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 2 (March 2015), p. 12
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