“Hearing the news that the tomb was empty, Peter and John ran to the tomb where Jesus had been placed to see for themselves. John reached the tomb first. He bent down and looked into the tomb and saw only the linen cloths, but he himself did not go in. Then Peter went into the tomb, and he also saw the linen cloths on the ground but also the linen cloth that had been placed over the face of Jesus, but this cloth was folded and set in a separate place. Then John entered the tomb, and both saw and believed.”
The other day my manual labor involved helping Brother Sirach with the work in the laundry of Greyfriars‘. The laundry at the Abbey is a rather busy place, doing the bed linen, towels, and napkins for not only the Brothers and Novices but also for those who spend the night in the Guest House. Some weekends we might host fifty pilgrims in the Guest House, so this means a good number of towels and sheets and napkins to be washed, dried and folded. As I was folding the bed sheets with Brother Sirach, an elderly Brother originally from Egypt who sings these beautiful ancient hymns while he works, this act of folding the linen brought me back to my childhood. You see, my mother often worked as a maid and laundress in a hotel. Now and then, I would have the occasion to go down to her work place and help her turn a mountain of washed linen into an orderly stack of folded linen. I recall thinking one day how strange it was that mother would take such care to perfectly fold that linen that would, in the end, be tossed on the floor in a heap of disarray. It all seemed rather futile to a young lad, but still she kept folding that linen, corner to corner, smoothed and evened.
Today, my Gospel reading was John’s account of the empty tomb. Most certainly this passage tells the great news of maybe the most climactic moment in human history, an event that gave birth to Christendom… yet … in the midst of that startling discovery made by Peter and John, John feels the need to record with a most peculiar and particular emphasis a seemingly insignificant detail … “the cloth that had been placed over Jesus’ face had been folded and placed carefully separate from the other burial cloths.” I am intrigued – yes, quite intrigued – by why John felt the need to mention… that folded linen.
I do not know why John made that observation … some scholars have made conjectures, but to be honest, we don’t actually know why … but somehow I sense it has to do with the divine pattern of bringing order out of chaos. From the Genesis of our human experience to the Revelation of its ultimate fulfillment, God is observed bringing order out of chaos, over and over again. For some mysterious reason,… God finds a certain satisfaction – or so it seems – with folded linen.
In my college days, I was involved in a Christian discipleship program known as the Navigators. The Navigators emphasized self-discipline. Each day had its chores and they were to be done in timely fashion and in good order. Each day had its work of Christian charity in the world – not a day was to be missed. Each day had its designated times for study and prayer. Scriptures were to be memorized each week; small groups were to be faithfully attended as was weekly worship in your local church. To help teach this disciplined approach to Christian discipleship, as Navigators we were even expected to keep our closets, dressers and rooms in immaculate order, corner to corner, smoothed and evened. Christian discipleship involved many factors, but among them was self-discipline!
Now — at the other end of my days — I now find the Benedictine approach to Christian discipleship also values that divine satisfaction with bringing order out of chaos. And as it was in my Navigator’s experience, here at Greyfriars’ Abbey, the mutual expectation of excellence is never coerced, but always met solely through self-discipline, the self-discipline born and nurtured by a higher measure of love and thanksgiving for the grace of God.
Now – do not get the wrong impression – this love of folded linen is not an unhealthy expression of rigidity or obsessiveness, nor a religion of good works. No, indeed. To the contrary, it is an expression of the creativity of the Divine in our lives … the divine joy of creatively bringing something good and beautiful out of the chaos. It is like the collage artist who takes the scattered bits and pieces, the tatters and remnants, and then draws them together into a work of art – creating something beautiful that was not in existence before the artist came upon the scene … to create. I do believe the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, does a work similar to that of the collage artist … creating something new and beautiful not only with our personal lives … but I believe also in the communal life of the world. I do believe … Christ works in such a way … He lovingly re-creates a new way of life and even a new realm of existence out of the scattered bits and pieces, the tatters and remnants … of life.
Yes, even in the chore of folding linen … a certain divine satisfaction can be found.
Brother Anthony of the Cross
— For the latest installment of the ongoing story, The Mystic Realms of Shadow Fox, just click … https://greyfriarsabbey.wordpress.com/the-mystic-reams-of-shadow-fox/ … The installments are separated by ********* with the latest being at the end (obviously).