On an assumed cold, wintry night, approximately 2,000 some years ago, a little baby was born. His mother wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a feeding trough (more commonly known to all as a manger), somewhere in a little town called Bethlehem, located in what is known as the West Bank of the Middle East. A tiny, little baby in a big part of the world.
As his mother slept and his father tried to figure out what they were going to do next, the little baby cooed. All wrapped up in his swaddling cloths, he was quite content and happy enough for just being born. And besides, Asher, the shepherd boy who had listened to what the angels had told him, sat right at his side in awe of this little miracle.
Asher straightened the baby’s cloths. He had an inkling to loosen them, seeing that they bound him from moving about. How he wished he could hold him. Why did mothers wrap their babies so tight, anyhow? It was a practice he never understood. All those strips of cloth, binding his limbs still, all to ensure that this little man would grow strong and his arms and legs straight? Oh well. For now, Asher just traced the little baby’s face with his index finger, softly following the baby’s brow line and then down his baby nose, over his baby lips and then up to the other brow, repeating the process over and again until the newborn fell asleep.
Asher wondered if his mother had wrapped him in linen such as that. In that way. Was he bound tightly so that he couldn’t move? Wouldn’t move? Was he constrained from stretching his fingers up into the air? Were his feet confined from layers of cloth wrapped around his legs so that he was unable to kick freely as he had done while in his mother’s womb? How was a little baby supposed to strengthen his muscles if constricted from movement?
Swaddling clothes seemed to be a form of bondage to Asher. Bondage that kept this little baby from being welcomed freely into the world. Perhaps it was a sign. After all, his route in getting here to this stable was a bit miraculous, if he dared to use such an explanation.
The baby’s father looked tired and his eyes bloodshot as his head rested against the wall of the stable. Asher felt pity toward him.
“Sir – I can guard the little baby if you fall asleep.”
The father moved his head from the wall and turned it slightly to face Asher. A weary smile crept over the man’s face as he contemplated Asher’s offer.
“Thank you,” the deep voice sounded. “I’m not sure if I can sleep. But what about you? Is your mother worried about you? Shouldn’t you get home?”
“Oh, no. The other two boys that were with me earlier – they were my brothers and it was our turn to tend the flock tonight. She’s not expecting me home tonight and they told me it was okay to stay a while when they went back to the field. But, I – I can leave if you want me to.”
The father smiled. “No – you can stay. I think he likes you here,” he said, looking at the baby. “Maybe I will take you up on that offer. You wake me up if he wakes up.”
“Yes, sir,” Asher promptly responded and with that, the baby’s father rested his head back against the wall and closed his eyes and the mother continued to sleep soundly, her head resting on the father’s lap, as the rest of her body lay on a mound of hay. As the father drifted to sleep, Asher heard him mumble, “Jesus. His name is Jesus.”
Asher sat beside the feeding trough, looking into the eyes of that little one as the baby, now awake, stared back. Asher looked into the eyes of that little baby and chills ran down his spine.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jesus knew he wouldn’t see his next birthday. Things were moving rapidly now and heating up amongst the people and officials and he knew His time to do what He was sent here to do was now at hand.
As he knelt in the garden, he continued praying as he had been doing all night, except that now he was hearing voices coming from the front entrance of the garden. Within moments, Roman soldiers surrounded him on every side, death dancing in their eyes. Did they really think they needed hundreds of men to take him captive? Did they secretly believe He was who he said he was and think they couldn’t stop him unless they brought a battalion of men?
He went peacefully with the guards and some might say, He suffered peacefully. When it was over – the beatings, the mockery, the crucifixion, all of which he never fought– he died.
Joseph, a good and upright man in Jerusalem and having been granted permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross, began preparing Jesus’ body for burial with the aid of his friend Nicodemus and his cousin Asher. For Asher, there was something familiar about this man who had been hung on a cross to die for no apparent reason. Something which Asher couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Having come to Jerusalem to merely visit his cousin, little did he know he’d be helping him with this task. The three men had removed Jesus’s body from the cross on which he was hanged and they worked together to remove the spikes that held Jesus’ hands to the timber, which were now splintered and coated with the stickiness of dried blood. With great gentleness and care, after each spike had been removed, they gently laid Jesus’ body beside the cross on which he had breathed his last breath.
Joseph untied a cloth bag and removed strips of linen and then the three men worked together in silence. Around and around the feet, methodically they wrapped Jesus’ body, moving up the legs. Then, positioning the stiffened arms straight against the sides of Jesus’ torso, they continued wrapping, overlapping layer after layer, until they reached the neck.
“Who was this man?” Asher finally sliced through the silence, a feeling of familiarity once again surrounding him. “What was his name?”
“They called him Jesus.”
Asher stopped. “They called him what?”
“His name was Jesus. I really believe, no matter how stupid it sounds, He was the Son of God,” Nicodemus stated.
Asher’s face turned white.
“Are you okay, Ash? You don’t look so good,” Joseph asked his cousin.
From swaddling cloths to grave cloths, this was no coincidence.
“Do you remember that story I told you about when you helped me that summer tending flocks when we were teenagers? The story about the angels and the baby my brothers and Id found at the stable when I was a little runt?”
Joseph’s face was expressionless as he stared at Asher, except for the wideness of his eyes, which were staring back at Asher. “Yes.”
“I think this is him.”
“You told me he was born in Bethlehem.”
“He was, but his dad had said they had come for the census and eventually, I heard that they left. His father told me what I told you that night we were talking – that his was no ordinary baby and the angels that told us to go into town and that we’d find a baby in a manger – well – this is him. I know it.”
Joseph looked at the baby, now wrapped in linen except for the blood stained face and matted hair. A tear dropped from his eye and landed silently on a piece of cloth that he held in his hand.
“I remember watching him that night in the stable while his parents slept and for some reason, wished I could have removed the swaddling clothes and let him be free to wiggle around. And his eyes. I will never forget those eyes, Joseph. And now, here I am wrapping him up, making him bound once again.”
“You’re not going to bind him. Matthew the tax collector is a good friend and he told me that Jesus said after three days he would rise again. Even the Pharisees are afraid. You can bet they’re going to station guards at the tomb. But, nothing’s going to hold him back, Asher. Nothing. And that – I know.”
Asher sat and listened to his cousin, who was so confident that this man they tended to was the Messiah. Did he realize what he was saying? And yet, didn’t Asher himself believe that the little baby some thirty years ago, who he watched try to wiggle his way from being bound with the linens of long ago – didn’t he believe that little baby would change the world – just as the angels had said?
With sorrow, now mixed with anticipation, they finished what they had come here for. They wrapped Jesus’ face and then carried him to the tomb. There was nothing more they could do. They laid him down on the stone and with the help of the six soldiers already waiting at the tomb, rolled a large stone in front of the entrance as two women watched from afar.
Walking toward Joseph’s home, Asher asked, “Tell me again what he said about coming back to life after three days.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And so it was – the third day. Asher was heading back to Bethlehem and decided to take the path that passed Joseph’s tomb. A nagging curiosity had been his companion the last two days, while staying with his cousin Joseph. He was distracted from his thoughts and stopped upon seeing and hearing a commotion ahead.
Sliding off his donkey, he tied it to a nearby olive tree. He walked closer, seeing the two women who had been watching from afar just two days ago when he and Joseph and Nicodemus with the help of the guards had rolled the stone across the front of the tomb.
Three men were talking to them and suddenly the women gasped and ran into the open tomb, back out again, and down the road – right past Asher. As they passed, one of the women turned to him, excitedly exclaiming, “He’s alive!”
His eyes followed her as she ran off.
He turned back toward the tomb. The three men had disappeared. They hadn’t passed him. He turned to see if they were walking away from him down the road in the other direction. But no – they were just – gone. He looked all around – no one. Slowly, he walked toward the place where the men had stood while they were speaking to the three women. He could see the tomb.
It had taken nine strong men to roll that stone in front of the tomb. The women couldn’t have moved it, even if the three men he had seen with them just moments before had helped them. He and Joseph and Nicodemus could barely do it with the assistance of the six hefty built Roman guards who had been there to seal it.
Asher stood at the entrance of the tomb, took a deep breath and then stepped inside. It was dark, but bright enough with the light from outside streaming in behind him, to see what he needed to see. They body was gone. And, at that moment he was certain.
The body hadn’t ‘disappeared’. No one had taken it. He knew how he and Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped that body. Carefully – oh so carefully. And there, on the stone where they had laid Jesus’ body, now lay only grave cloths. Neatly folded, in a pile, on the stone.
Asher was shivering, every inch of his body tingling with excitement. He picked up the top cloth and a strange peace coated every inch of his being as he held the cloth.
The little baby he had fallen in love with. The baby he wanted to set free. And though for burial he had helped to bind him in death, Asher knew in his heart that this man they called Jesus – this man who had hung on a cross – truly he was the Messiah. He had seen him wrapped in swaddling clothes as a baby and had bound him in grave cloths in death. But he knew the next time he saw him – this man called Jesus – it would be with an offering of outstretched arms, as Asher’s Savior, welcoming him Home, setting him free.