“But they (the apostles) did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
Luke 24:11-12 (NIV)
Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! This familiar declaration was joyfully shared throughout the world this past Sunday. In languages unknown and known to us, these words were repeated again and again across nations, cultures and race. The music and voices of choirs filled sanctuaries, embracing the visitors and members alike while flowers filled worship spaces with the artistic expression that comes from God’s creation.
From our pulpits we have heard the familiar story that defied and transformed the darkest night of humanity into life-giving possibilities that only the God of creation could orchestrate. It is the story of the impossible made possible.
One of my favorite scenes is found in the Lukan version of the resurrection story. The women go to tell the apostles what they have seen and have been told – but the apostles do not believe them. And then we have Peter – the very same Peter who denied Jesus three times a few days earlier. In his raw and honest response to what he has heard, he got up and ran to the tomb. He finds strips of linen there – and he wonders what has happened.
According to Matthew 27:57, 59-60, Joseph of Arimathea, who had become a disciple of Jesus, took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and placed it in the tomb. I imagine Joseph doing this carefully with great respect for the teacher he came to follow. What started out as an execution-style death was transformed into the honoring of a faithful and beloved Jewish man with all the rituals of that time. The women were doing the same when they found themselves before the empty tomb. And now – when Peter bends down to look into the tomb, the only things left behind are strips of linen. Think about this – these were the strips of linen that had been used to wrap Jesus’ body. And now, it was all those strips that were left behind in the tomb.
Years ago I was reminded of the powerful symbolism of these strips. These linen strips represent all that keep us bound up, restricted and confined. These linen strips represent the physical, emotional and spiritual assumptions that do not allow us to walk out into the light of the resurrection. They are the fears, the illnesses, the abuse, the injustice – all the pain that shapes our earthly journey – binding up our hearts and minds – not allowing us to move into or even see the resurrection light and possibilities right before our eyes. They are all that keep us bound up and entombed – unable to walk out of the darkness.
At this point in my ministry and life, I am deeply aware of the strips of linen that can hold me hostage, confining me to the darkness of the tomb. I am all-too aware of the many strips of linen that can prevent me from walking out of my personal tomb-like circumstances. I’ve learned that at some points along our journeys in this life, most of us will carry thoughts and emotions that wrap us in spiritual or emotional bondage, confining any movement of possibilities. The reality of this brokenness makes the arrival of Easter Sunday a necessary and timely one. We are reminded yet again that we are a resurrection people, a people of the impossible. And as a people of the impossible, this Easter moment compels us to strip ourselves from those fears and emotions that bind us, leaving them behind in the tomb – following Christ out into the light boldly – Jesus Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!