The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'll Be Back

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
John (RSV) 20:6-7

Why did Christ bother to set aside the napkin that covered His head? He could have just tossed it in the same pile with his other burial clothes. Scripture is very specific in this matter. He took the napkin that covered His head and did something very deliberate with it. The Latin Vulgate uses the phrase unum locum to describe this. It's one of those nuances that easily gets lost in translation to English because that word locum translates to "seat," "rank," or "position."

While it may seem a mystery to us why Our Lord was so tidy. For a Jew living 2,000 years ago, the meaning of this gesture would have been very clear. The custom of the day held that that when the master of the house was dining at table, his servant would wait just out of sight for him to finish. It would be considered terribly rude for the servant to clear the table before the master was done. When the master finished eating, he would rise, clean his fingers and beard with the napkin, and then wad it up an throw it on the table. This meant that he did not plan to return and it was time for the servant to clean up.

On the other hand, if the master was not finished eating, but for whatever reason needed to leave the table, he would neatly roll his napkin and place it beside his plate. This let the servant know that the master would return and that he should hold off on cleaning up.

So when Christ takes the napkin that covered His head and neatly rolls it up and puts it in a specific position apart from His other burial clothes, by that gesture he lets his apostles know that He is not finished. He will be back. Upon seeing this, Peter and John in their joy rushed back to tell the others. Had they waited around they might have seen Him sooner. The very next verse in this scripture describes how Mary Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb, and Christ appears to her.

This tradition of neatly folding the napkin continues on today in the mass. At the conclusion of communion when the priest purifies the vessels that were used, notice that he doesn't simply wad up the corporal, that linen cloth on which the eucharistic elements are placed, but rather he neatly folds it in a deliberate and specific way and sets in on the chalice in a specific position. It is a sign that the Eucharistic meal never really ends.

The Master will return.


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