DAILY READING: John 20:1–9

FOCUS PASSAGE: So Peter and the other disciples started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) (John 20:3–9)

In a few verses, the narration moves quickly from pointing out that “no one had ever been laid” in this tomb (19:41), to “they laid Jesus there” (19:42), to “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb” (20:2).

On Easter morning, these followers of Jesus did not find the body they anticipated finding. Instead, they found his clothing lying in the tomb.

John usually intended underlying meanings in his Gospel, so we can explore a couple of them.

First, burial places are not permanent abodes. They look permanent, but they are not.

I’ve been to more funerals than most people will attend in a lifetime. Everything about a funeral is meant to affirm death’s permanence. The quality of the burial equipment (caskets and grave liners), the rites and rituals we follow at the time of death, and the shape of the funeral itself all point to death’s permanence. They send a message to the loved ones of the deceased: “Death is real!”

Jesus used the garden tomb for a period of time, but on Easter morning he was no longer there. It held him for a few hours, but could not hold him permanently. Death is the seed-bed of life.

Years later, the Apostle Paul wrote about death as the enemy, but then issued this challenge: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Jesus’ “death” was a very hollow victory for death. Jesus’ life extracted the “sting” from death.

Second, Jesus’ grave-clothes were left behind. He was not in the tomb, but his clothes were.

Think of what clothes represent. What do they mean socially? Clothing marks us and gives us a name, an image. Our clothes indicate how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen by others. For example, we can manipulate the opinions of strangers by carefully choosing our clothing. It’s the reason many of us get uptight about what we wear and how we look. Our image is at stake, and our clothing communicates what we want others to think about us.

Jesus wasn’t found in the tomb, but his clothing was. He didn’t choose these clothes; rather, others chose the clothing for him. The clothing with which he entered the tomb said about him: “Dead!” But that estimation of him was wrong.

Clothing never tells the whole story about us. It creates an illusion, a false front. Tombs don’t hold people (the soul is luminous and eternal!). But they do hold clothing.

When we finally exit the tombs and dead-end spaces in which we live, we symbolically have to leave our own clothing behind. The term for this leaving behind in the spiritual life is “inner freedom.” What better word could we carry through Resurrection Sunday than freedom?

I hope you experience freedom today as you follow Christ out of the tomb, and as you leave your graveclothes behind with his.

The Lent Weekly Devotional series is written by Jerry Webber, Community Pastor, The Center for Christian Spirituality/Contemplative Worship.