This article was formerly published in "Devotions by The Christian World College of Theology" Class of 2004.
"And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Loose him, and let him go.'”
John 11:44 NKJV
"Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there,and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself."
John 20:6,7 NKJV
It is intriguing that the importance of the grave clothes in these scriptures is accentuated by the mention of the cloth that was wrapped on the face of both Lazarus and Jesus. In Jesus' time, interment of the deceased was performed quickly, usually the same day as the death. As the body was prepared with aloes and herbs, they took the time to separately wrap the face in a handkerchief or as some translations read, a napkin. We are all born into death, by Adam's sin. At His birth, the one who was sinless, Jesus Christ, lay wrapped in swaddling clothes in that ancient manger, a foreshadowing of His death. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).
He that is above all creation had no nursery at His birth and was laid in a borrowed tomb at His death. The swaddling clothes gave way to cruel torture and grave clothes infused with aromatic herbs, as if this heinous deed could be covered by sweet incense.
The intriguing element of both scriptures is that the removal of the handkerchief was intentional and careful. Jesus ordered the men present at Lazarus' raising to, ". . .loose him and let him go" (John 11:44). As Christians, we are responsible to assist new converts in putting off the ways of death that coincide with life in the world. We are to help them to become Christ-like and grow in the Word. At our conversion, we are all as newborns, not knowing or understanding until we learn and grow.
So many times new Christians are left to die, when they need nourishment and acceptance from their big brothers and sisters. We are not to accept the ways of death, but to help them remove the cloth from their faces, so that they can see and breathe this new life.
When Jesus arose, He cast aside the burial garment that was enfolding Him. It lay in a heap upon the stone where He had been placed. The face napkin, although, was folded together and set apart. Why would Jesus go to the trouble of carefully removing the napkin, folding it, and setting it aside? He was speaking directly to us by this act. We must intentionally and with great care put off the ways of death.
If one can imagine having one's head wrapped in a linen napkin, it would be difficult to hear, see, breathe. and speak. One would be bound and not able to discern the environment around them. Jesus is asking us to carefully remove the grave clothes, to lay them aside intentionally, and not to live in the tombs anymore. Jesus said, ". . . I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live." John 11:25
Dear Heavenly Father,
I thank you today for Your Word. It is Life and it is Life giving. Thank you for all things, Lord. Thank You Jesus for dying as ransom for my sins. Thank You Holy Spirit for abiding in me and empowering me to live for You. Father, please show me places in my life that I have not removed the grave clothes, so that I may walk in total life. Please show me others that need my assistance in removing their own grave clothes. Lord, I love You and praise You and I lay down my life for Your Kingdom. In Jesus' precious name I pray. Amen.
Patricia Paige Harrison