Husband & Wife Articles


The Burial Cloths

What did you out to the tomb to see?

By Jason Godin

The Gospel of John places Christians before an open and empty tomb on Easter Sunday. It is a liturgical moment that brings believers back to the very first Easter, in the company of two disciples, John and Peter, as they agonize during a Sunday dawn over what appears a gruesome reality: the stone has been removed, the crucified body of Christ has been taken (cf. Jn 20:1-2).

It is quite normal to find the dead disturbed deeply disturbing. Thanks be to God, however, Easter takes any agony over death and transforms it into a glimpse of an extraordinary ecstasy of life. The open and empty Easter tomb isn’t meant as an assault on our senses or sense of propriety, but as a service – a sure sign to guide us and a steady step to take us all closer to God. Husbands, wives and children, it seems to me, can all come to appreciate that reality more fully by reflecting on the burial cloths of Christ.

John arrived first to the tomb after hearing the news from Mary Magdalene and, on bended knee, saw the burial cloths. But he didn’t enter the tomb at first (cf. Jn 20:3-5).

Curiosity clearly carried the young “disciple whom Jesus loved” to the threshold of the tomb. But why did the sight of the burial cloths seem to hold John back from initially crossing that entrance fully?

Perhaps it was to confer comfort. The burial cloths brought John – an apostolic hero of the faith – literally to his knees. The season of Lent showed us that our sins – the sad strips of own burial cloths – do the same to us. They bind us with dirty thoughts and actions. They kill us on the inside, slowly, to act with temptation in ways contrary to what our conscience tells us is right. They hold us back from what we know we have to do to make our lives right again – first take a knee in sorrow for our sins, to see at the same time how much we need to cross the threshold of a confessional, and to take that knee again before the presence of healing mercy.

Peter made it to the tomb next but, unlike John, went immediately all the way into the tomb. He noticed the head cloth rolled up separately and apart from the other burial cloths. Before returning home with Peter, John entered the tomb, “saw and believed” (Jn 20:6-8, 10).

Discipleship calls for boldness. Living makes us realize that sustaining such courage and confidence also demands confirmation from time to time. Ordinary senses tend to take the lead in those efforts to know what’s real in the face of extraordinary moments.

The empty tomb encountered on Easter presents no different scenario in that regard. In a way, the burial cloths served as an important part of a fact-finding mission led by Peter. The Church, with the successor of Peter as her shepherd, witnesses to the world with similar boldness as that search continues today. She allows us all to see, believe and, as a family of faith, take home the treasury of Church traditions and teachings to share with others in our daily lives.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the discovery of the empty tomb is “an essential sign for all” because it serves as “the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection” (640). It is indeed, for the burial cloths within that tomb helped the disciples John and Peter then – as they help us now – begin better to “understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).

Jason Godin lives in College Station, Texas, with his wife and their two children. He teaches United States history.