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. (John 20:6-8)
It was a cold day for North Carolina. Three people braced against the wind as they walked along a path. One was a Marine, just returned from Vietnam. Another was his wife. The last was the undertaker. The wife carried a blue baby blanket. She said she didn’t want her baby to be cold. She insisted on wrapping the blanket around the tiny casket that soon would be lowered into the ground. No one had the heart to object. They had planned a trip to show off their new baby to loved ones waiting in the Midwest. Now, instead of celebrating a birth, they were going home to grieve a death. The car was already packed. Baby rattles, baby bottles, and baby clothes had been given away to friends at Lejeune. They were too painful to look at. Only the blue blanket was kept.
On a winter’s night in Bethlehem the baby Jesus was also wrapped in cloth. We call it swaddling clothes. Some 33 years later the bleeding body of this Jesus was again wrapped in cloth. We call that a shroud. What a difference! The distinction between life and death is marked by the name of a cloth. A mother wept over that grave near Jerusalem. A mother wept over the grave near Camp Lejeune. The blue blanket wrapping the tiny baby was prompted by the same tearful love that wanted to properly wrap the body of Jesus.
The two graves have much in common. “Tragic” is a word to describe both deaths. “Unexpected” is another. So is the word “heartbreaking.” But the most important word is “empty.” Death could not hold the body in the Palestinian soil. Death will not hold the body in the Carolina clay.
The hymn writer breaks forth with the words: “Christian, dry your flowing tears; Chase your unbelieving fears. Look on his deserted grave; Doubt no more his power to save.” Burial cloths serve no purpose for bodies that will be raised alive and glorious.
The wife of that Marine probably has gray hair by now. We hope that some of the pain has faded from her heart. We know for sure that one day it will all be gone. One day her son will meet her with smiles of joy. On that day he will be able to tell her, “Mom, thanks for the thought.”
“But you see, no blanket was needed.”
We pray: Lord Jesus, your empty grave takes away the sting of death. Your resurrection declares that those who die trusting you will rise to live forever. Dry all the tears of those who mourn the loss of a child of God. Renew their hearts to again know the joy of your salvation. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida. Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military