Evidence of the Resurrection


What is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? I want to focus on just one feature that John the Apostle especially draws attention to in his account of Easter morning – namely, the burial cloths left behind in the tomb.

You will find this passage in the Bible (a hard copy or online) in the book of the gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 1-9. 
We hear about Mary Magdalene, who had this great friendship with Jesus. She comes early in the morning, when it’s still dark. She notices that the grave stone has been rolled back. And right away she suspects there’s been a grave robbery. Why else would someone go to the effort of rolling the stone back? So right away she runs to Simon Peter and John and says, ‘They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb. We don’t know where they put him.’ She’s still operating within a conventional framework, trying to understand what she’s seen, in the light of what she’s already known.

Then this scene: The two disciples having heard this, they’re probably alarmed and intrigued…So, Peter and John, make a kind of mad dash for the tomb. And we’re told, the younger John outpaces the older Peter and arrives at the tomb first, and looks in.

Graham Greene, the 20th century Catholic novelist – a convert to the faith – said this scene was one reason why he converted. And he read it with a novelist’s eye. ‘Why would they have included that little odd detail, of John getting to the tomb first? Unless it really happened; unless it was something vividly remembered. Just like when you’re recounting a story that meant a lot to you, and you remember every little quirky detail. That struck Graham Greene as a sign that we’re not dealing with mythology and legend, but something that was vividly remembered.

John looks into the tomb. Eventually Peter gets there and goes into the tomb. What do they notice? And this is something that John puts a great stress on. They noticed the burial cloths. It’s mentioned a couple of times. And then they even mention that the cloth that was around his head; was rolled up neatly and placed in a different spot.

And you think, ‘Okay, they’re remembering this event. The body of Jesus is gone. Why would they be so focused on the burial cloths?’ Here’s an immediate response: How weird that would have seemed. If the body of Jesus had been stolen, thieves – you would imagine – would want to get in and out pretty quickly. Why would they bother unravelling this corpse? And why would they walk out with an unclothed body? It just seems so odd. Wouldn’t they have just picked up the wrapped body and spirited it away?

And then, why in the world, would thieves have bothered with rolling up the head covering neatly, and putting it in a separate spot? There was something obviously very peculiar about these cloths, that got their attention.

Here’s something else. I wonder whether they saw something on those cloths. I wonder whether there were markings on those cloths. And I wonder whether we can see them to the present day. Because the very burial cloths that signalled to these first disciples, the fact of the Resurrection, might play the same role for us today.

Undoubtedly you know I’m talking about the most famous relic of the shroud of Turin – now kept in a vault in the Turin cathedral in Italy. The shroud is marked with the frontal and dorsal images of a crucified man, around 30 years of age.
You can see – even with the naked eye – the gashes in his wrist and his feet; you can see the wound in his side; you can see blood marks and other indicators of a cap of thorns. This relic is venerated as the cloth that these disciples saw; the cloth that covered the body of Christ, in the tomb.

Now, if you’ve done any research into the shroud, you know the most extraordinary moment happened about 1898, when it was photographed for the first time. So it had been around for centuries; people had seen these kind-of vague rust-coloured markings. But when it was photographed for the first time, the photographer to his infinite surprise – as he’s developing the photographs – notices that the negative of the photograph he took, is an exquisitely detailed image of the man of the shroud – of his face and of his wounded body. He realised that what we see on the shroud is not a positive image; it’s a negative image. So that a negative of the negative produces this extraordinary positive.

Once the scholars got that; and once the scientists got to it about the 1970’s, they discovered so many details. For e.g. the wounds in the wrists, rather than the palms of the hand. Any Christian iconographer would have put the wounds in the palms, but more realistically are in the wrists, where the nails would be supported by the bones there. The wounds in the wrists and the feet and the side; the cap of thorns. But with a more detailed analysis, they can see all the wounds from the scourging. Which correspond precisely to the evidence we have, of the scourges that Roman soldiers would have used at that time. More to that, they discovered pollens and other biological evidence, that show that the shroud was in the Judean and indeed Jerusalem area. They even find – as they look very carefully – a remnant of a coin of Pontius Pilate – that they would have placed on the eyes of the dead Christ. For these and many other reasons, people came to see – this is the same cloth, that those disciples saw, on Easter Sunday morning, that led them – as we hear – to see and to believe. The same cloth we can see and bring us to belief.

Now you can say, ‘Okay, let’s say it is an image of this man who was crucified long ago. Why would you think it’s evidence of the resurrection?’ from the marks themselves.
What confounded the scientists, still does: What are these marks? Where did they come from? It’s very clear now – from hours and hours of scientific analysis – the marks that you can see on the shroud, are not from pigmentation. They’re not from any kind of colouration. They exist only on the absolute surface of the fibres of the shroud. Any kind of pigmentation would have gone deeper in. What produced them?

Best guess? Because no one has been able to reproduce it, by the way. People have tried – using all the scientific means that we have today – to produce that remarkably negative image of a body. And they can’t do it.
The best guess – from the scientists who’ve examined the shroud? Something like an intense burst of radioactive energy – coming by the way, from all dimensions of the body, because the shroud is inscribed with a kind of three-dimensionality. Coming from the entirety of the body, all at once, in a split second, this intense burst of radiation, produced these marks.

Christians nod their heads and say, ‘Uh huh’. The moment of the resurrection! The moment when the body of Christ is brought back to life, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And leaving behind – wonderfully – on the burial garment of Jesus, marks that indicate the fact of the resurrection.

They saw and they believed. Isn’t it amazing, everybody? It’s a kind of miracle – given the long history of the shroud, as it made its way through Jerusalem and number of different parts of Europe and Asia that we can identify, how it finally made its way to Turin. Finally coming to our present age, where we too can look at it with our own eyes; see and believe.

A few decades back, there was the tendency to reduce the resurrection to a symbol: “it was one more iteration of the dying and rising god; it was a literary device to express the fact that Jesus’ cause goes on; it’s a way of speaking of the disciples ongoing faith in what he taught etc.”
If that’s all it is, who cares? If that’s all it is, we can point to any inspiring figure from the ancient world and say: ‘You know – his thought goes on; and his inspiration continues; so he’s raised from the dead too.’
But see – that’s not what they’re claiming!

Think again of Graham Greene. They’re remembering vividly, that morning. That morning, when Peter and John raced to the tomb. That’s not a vague myth we’re talking about. That’s not a legend and symbol and all that.
That’s a vividly remembered moment. They look into the tomb and they’re expecting to see the body of Jesus. But the body is not there; instead, there are these strange and wonderful burial cloths. And then as they look more carefully at them, they opened the door to their belief in the resurrection.

We live in a skeptical time – I get it. Especially with regard to the claims of Christianity – which are historical claims. So, they’re hard to verify independently. You have to go back to these texts.
Maybe look up the shroud of Turin. Go on the web. Of find some images of it and read about it. Because I think the same burial cloths that opened the door to faith long ago, could perhaps do the same thing today. And lead us then, into the truth of the risen Christ. Like the centurion who said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God’.

What ratified Jesus’ claims about himself? His bodily resurrection from the dead. When they saw that, they knew he was who he said he was. May those same burial cloths, lead us today, to that same faith.
God bless you all! And wishes for a joy-filled Easter!

Content Credit: Bishop Robert Barron

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