Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jesus' Folded Napkin: UnFolded

I receive a lot of emails as I'm sure you do. I delete a lot of emails after reading the first line. I dislike emails that have a fluff sentiment, whether religious or secular, THAT states- if you send this email to 8 friends you will have good luck, prayer answered, a financial wind-fall, blah, blah, blah. Phooey, that's Christian voodoo!

I make a habit of checking out suspect emails. I look at a few fact-checking sites like Snopes.com...but I don't always trust this source either. It tends to have liberal leanings and if the questionable email is political...I look at a couple of  other sources. The one time I didn't research and passed on an email...I got nailed by my brother-in-law. Ouch. So I try to be careful...and if it's a darling email, I will forward it with the note: I'm not sure if this is true, but it's a nice thought.

Okay, now that I've stated this: the email below is a lovely one. BUT, I had to research it. I will let you read it for the pure enjoyment. The message is beautiful and uplifting..full of hope. After the story, I'll tell you what I found:

Why did Jesus fold the linen burial cloth after His resurrection?

The Gospel of John (20:7) tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not just thrown aside like the grave clothes. It was neatly folded and placed at the head of that stony coffin.

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. (The body of Our Lord was missing)

She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple...Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple out ran Peter and got there first. He stopped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn't go in.

Then Simon Peter arrived and 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.

Was that important? Absolutely! Is it really significant? Yes!

In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little bit about Hebrew tradition of that day.
The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition.
When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it.

The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating,
and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished..

Now if the master were done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard,
and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table.

The servant would then know to clear the table.. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, "I'm finished."

But if the master got up from the table, and 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!" (end of email)
Numerous Bible study sources have been checked out and nothing about this alleged Jewish custom of the folded napkins had been found.  No Bible scholars could verify the meaning of the folded napkin. If you find one, please, let me know.
Additionally, a Jewish rabbi of TruthOrFiction.com who has been a life-long Orthodox Jew, a Jewish scholar, and lives in Jerusalem, Israel, said he’d never heard of it.

 In my search for the "truth", I didn't find much more than the above...until I came to the comments left at
http://www.returningking.com/?p=78. The following are the ones of interest:

1) According to Jewish tradition, which by the way still goes on today, when a Jewish male is buried his Prayer Shawl (Tallit) is used to wrap the the head where the face is showing. The other disciple, which is John, KNEW every little detail of The Lord’s habits. When men attended the Synagogue, each man left his Tallit there. Since all the Tallit looked the same, the only way a man could distinguish his from all the others was the way it was folded. John immediately KNEW Jesus had risen…………all because John recognized our Lord’s “SIGNATURE” (fold)!!!!!  (Carl)

2) I was told it was a tradition of ‘carpenters’ of that day. When a job was finished and the persons ordering the work were not present, the carpenter would fold and leave behind the handkerchief he used to wipe his brow. This was the equivalent of passing a self-imposed “final inspection and a certificate of completion”, as they did not have building inspectors then. This signaled that the job was done. (jeffery Cory)

3) The position or form of the clothes was seen by the early Church especially to support the clear and unmistakable affirmation that the body had not been removed, for had the body been stolen, grave robbers would not have taken the time to unwrap the linens and certainly not have placed the soudarion rolled up neatly in its place. (from the Catholic Bulletin.com)

They all make sense. #2 was most interesting given the fact that Jesus was a carpenter, and if this comment is true, He would be familiar with this signal. If it were a customary thing to do, then the apostles would be familiar with this, too. I don't believe that the cloth was left folded for no apparent reason. I don't believe it was mentioned in the Holy Bible just for good script-reading. There's a reason for everything with God. Nothing is coincidental with Him.

When I have dinner guests, I use lovely cloth napkins. After I clear away the dishes, I brush off the tablecloth, and reset the table for dessert. At each guest's setting, I always shake out his/her napkin, refold it, and place it neatly by the dessert plate. I am readying the table for my guests return. The savory part of the meal is complete...the sweet course is yet to come. It is what most guests look forward to, dessert. Interestingly, the word comes from the French language, desservir, "to clear the table" and "to serve" Could this be more appropriate? Our Lord came to serve and we are born to serve Him with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with all our strength. Is there anything more sweet than the thought of Christ's Return? Is there anything more sweet than the thought of eternal happiness in heaven...the sweet by-and-by?
Perhaps, the "folded napkin" email does nothing more than get us all thinking about His Coming. There's nothing wrong with dialogue between Christians and sometimes it takes a controversial, yet innocent email to get the dialogue started. Always seek the truth. And may the image of the folded napkin remind us that the Greatest, Most Honored Guest will return and He will invite His faithful to feast at the banquet table of the Father.
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  1. This is fascinating stuff, Nanette!

  2. That is a great explanation, one that had passed me by up until now.
    In British culture you also (if you are a guest) fold your napkin if you are staying on in the household, but, at your last meal, you place the napkin on the table unfolded!
    Thank you Nanette.

  3. Hi Richard I thought the email was interesting enough to create a post around it. Thanks so much for the visit, the read and the comment. Your comment adds another interesting point to the unsolved tale of the Folded Napkin. Come back..your input matters. N