But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.   – Luke 24:12 (MSG)

Stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes.

Grave clothes.

In Jesus’ time, grave clothes were more like grave cloths. Fabric strips that bound the body, also called a shroud. Another cloth would cover the face. All of which would be specially woven or purchased for burial.

Grave clothes means something different now. When those we love die, and we have an open casket reviewal or do a full body burial, we carefully choose something for them to wear. A jersey from their favorite team, their best suit or dress. One of my uncles was buried in his “uniform” of a button-down shirt, crew neck sweater, and Dockers.

Then and now, these clothes or cloths would go with the deceased into the grave. Family or professionals tenderly wrapping the body in a last act of physical care.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial—dawn comes after the long sabbath rest. The women go to the tomb and find Jesus missing. After they tell the disciples, Peter runs back and finds the grave clothes abandoned. Left behind. No longer of use.

It’s easy to turn those grave clothes into a metaphor. What do we need to let die or leave behind in our own lives? How do we find resurrection, renewal, a fresh start in this life?

But if we jump too quickly to the metaphor, we lose the power of what happened outside of Jerusalem so many years ago. We lose the power of the incarnation and the true presence of God with us.

Jesus is born of a woman, grows through boyhood, learns in the synagogue, eats, grows tired, rests, physically touches and actually heals (not a metaphor in sight), he bleeds, he weakens, he dies. He is fully and utterly human even as he is God. The grave clothes matter because Jesus’ humanity mattered—because our humanity matters. Moving too quickly to metaphorical grave clothes can rob us of the hope-giving power of the real thing.

That broken body was buried exactly like every other broken body of its time. Shrouded and buried. Then human death is defeated by the God of life! Those grave clothes are not the proper garment for the living, so they are cast aside. Jesus is alive. Death no longer has the final word. Life wins. Love wins.

The actual grave clothes matter because they are evidence that death is defeated by life and by love.

As you make your slow journey toward Easter, honor the humanity in you. Your body, your feelings, your capacity, even your mortality. Jesus came not to diminish or overshadow our humanity but to liberate us and to celebrate what God has done in creating us just as we are: life and love.

In life,

Pastor Chris