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Strips of Linen

I cannot get away from my growing intrigue with scripture. You would think after 42 years, one would grow weary of the same words. I have never experienced a book for which more than two reads made sense! Yet, here I set deep in my autumn years, the red zone, and I cannot get enough of those moments when a simple phrase leaps out for exploration, as if seen for the first time.

Meanwhile, my life journey has taken me deep into the community, with networks that penetrate poverty and wealth, grassroots leadership and elected officials, not to speak of a growing interfaith alliance among those who believe quite differently, but respect my candor, as I do their life journey. Something is going on!

The window that we live in is one of rapid change, brought on by a technological explosion unlike anything since the Enlightenment. I sit here at a blue screen with access to all public domain knowledge, and a text away from almost anyone in the world. Belief systems are being challenged in a way not unlike the post resurrection days of the Early Church. World leaders face a cacophony of challenge, from recent beheadings by those bent on eliminating faiths other than their own, to an economy that demands global solutions, all amidst a polarized political environment fraught with peril. All this is compounded by the growing risk of nuclear war among maverick nations whose tyrants desire to advantage this intense global unrest.

My faithful readership would be disappointed if I left out my now over stated beliefs that the American Church is long into a process of God invoked foreclosure. The dilemma is even more so apparent than in 2009, when I first sensed that might be the case. The institutional church does however seem to be awakening, though still resisting reality in its hope of renewal. We churchmen seem good at circling the wagons, or doing the same things with more intensity, not to speak of the weak souls among our congregants who migrate from church to church, as would a herd of Caribou in search of a winter feeding ground! This friend is a sure formula for collateral damage and a potential loss to the Kingdom that could carry well into the next generation, unless leadership arises from without the church.

The beauty is that the One who set this foreclosure into motion (Rev. 5), our near-kinsman, unlike the creatures that represent Him, has a plan. One only need engage among the many emerging marketplace leaders who see this dilemma,love the Body of Christ and are willing to take risks that many clergy are unwilling to take. I don’t expect to win friends as I write, though I am to love those whom my words might trouble.

At times, I feel like the disciples, who had lost all hope given the recent crucifixion of their leader and friend, until beckoned to the tomb with notice that a theft of the body had occurred (John 20:2). When they reached the tomb, there lay strips of linen. Uhmm!

Maybe some background would help:

Jesus’ burial involved 75 pounds of spices mixed with a gummy substance made from myrrh and aloes, used in between the folds of the linen cloths. These strips of linen were wrapped around His body (John 19:39-40). According to Jewish custom, the body was washed and straightened, then wrapped tightly from the armpits to the ankles in strips of linen about a foot wide. The gummy aromatic spices were placed between the wrappings or folds of the linen partly as a preservative and partly as a cement to glue the linen cloths into a solid covering which adhered so closely to the body that it would not easily be removed. The aloes were a fragrant wood which was pounded to a dry dust, and the myrrh was an aromatic gum which was mixed in with the dry aloes. The powder immediately around the myrrh would become sticky and would cement the linen cloths to each other and to the body, but the bulk of the aloe powder would most likely remain dry. The face was covered with a cloth napkin or handkerchief which was sometimes wrapped fully around the head.1

It seems obvious from John’s writings that a theft would be highly unlikely given the pile of linen strips found just inside the tomb. Why would a thief go to the difficulty of unwrapping the body before moving it? Why would the face cloth be folded and laid to the side, while the strips of linen were simply piled at the mouth of the tomb?

It has always been my belief that the face cloth, also mentioned in other gospels, was a critical piece of the Master’s “wink” at his troubled disciple’s. Perhaps folded in the same way as the towel laid aside after he had washed these same disciples’ feet? Given what was becoming apparent, I can sense their strange excitement as they gazed at one another with hearts once more fully alive! Perhaps we are in a similar place in time?

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