A Jewish tradition of that time would reveal the chilling message represented by this seemingly insignificant gesture
The Gospel according to St. John, in chapter 20, tells us of a handkerchief that had been placed on the Face of Jesus when He was buried in the late afternoon of Good Friday.
It so happens that after the Resurrection, when the tomb was found empty, that handkerchief was not lying on one side, like the sheets that had wrapped the Body of Jesus. The Gospel reserves an entire verse to tell us that the handkerchief was carefully folded and placed at the head of the stone tomb.
But why did Jesus fold the handkerchief that covered His head in the tomb after His resurrection?
Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene went to the site and discovered that the very heavy stone blocking the entrance to the tomb had been removed. She ran and met Simon Peter and another disciple, whom Jesus loved so much – St. John the Evangelist – and said to them,
“They have taken away the Lord’s Body and I do not know where they took Him!”
Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb. John went ahead of Peter and came first. He stopped and looked at the sheets, but did not enter. Then Simon Peter arrived, entered the tomb and noticed the sheets left there, while the handkerchief that had covered the Divine Face was folded and placed to one side.
This is important? Definitely.
Is this significant? Yes.
In order to understand the significance of the folded handkerchief, we must understand a little about the Hebrew tradition of the time.
The folded handkerchief has to do with a daily dynamic between the master and the servant – and every Jewish boy knew this dynamic well. The servant, as he prepared the dining table for his master, ought to be sure to do so in exactly the manner desired by his master.
After the table was prepared, the servant would wait outside the master’s sight until he finished the meal. The servant would never dare touch the table before the master was finished. When he was finished, the master would rise, wipe his fingers, his mouth and beard, tie his handkerchief, and throw it on the table. The embolished handkerchief meant ” I’m done .”
Now, if the master stood up and left the handkerchief folded beside the plate, the servant would not dare to touch the table yet, for that folded handkerchief meant to say, “I will come back!”