About twelve years ago, following a talk I gave at a large Catholic church in New York’s Westchester County, the pastor pulled me aside, away from the deviled eggs, pigs-in-a-blanket and cheese and crackers, away from the people who had questions or comments for me.
When we were out of earshot, he turned to me an said:“That’s interesting, the bloodstains not showing any sign of being cracked or smeared at their edges, evidence you say tells us the body and cloth were not pulled apart. By virtue of that fact, you seem to imagine that the body must have dematerialized.”
“That’s part of it, Father,” I said. “There is more at play, like the 3D I mentioned. And it’s not me. I should say that some scientists – I’m not one – are speculating about many ideas. I don’t really buy into the dematerialization idea. But to be fair, I must say that there are probably many things we do not understand about how nature works.”
“How about how God works?” he said forcefully.
Touché, I thought. I should also note, for you the blog reader, that I was still enthusiastic about the 3D information back when I gave this talk.
Fr. was patting the back of his head as though it was something he must do in order to think. “Dematerializing is not resurrection,” he finally said. “Nor is exiting the tomb. Nor is animation. Resurrection is very much also about being conscious, being aware and being awake. If you wish to prove Resurrection you must prove everything about it. Then after a pause to let that sink in, he said, “Of course, we don’t know anything about the Resurrection. The Gospels are utterly silent about it. Maybe that is because there is nothing to learn. That leaves me wonderfully free like artists and playwrights and theologians, free to contemplate and imagine.
“I see a glorified Christ rising, first just to his knees while he prays to our Father, then victoriously upright, his burial wrappings now turned into brilliant colorful robes. In fact, in my mind, I don’t think the Resurrection happened in the tomb at all. Jesus was buried in a tomb and indeed the tomb was empty on Easter. But Christ, in my imagination, awoke and rose to his feet in the garden near Mary Magdalen. Why not?
“Ask yourself this, Dan. Is it possible that the Shroud was not a burial cloth. Maybe it was a cloth used during the deposition from the cross or while carrying Jesus to the tomb? Maybe it was removed before the body was sealed in the tomb. Perhaps that is why the bloodstains are the way they are and why the image is of a dead man.
“The Shroud limits our imagination. It compels us to imagine how the Resurrection happened from the data. But what if the Shroud isn’t the real thing? What if the scientists are wrong?
How can you prove the Resurrection if you don’t know what the Resurrection is? We know the meaning. We know the reason. But we don’t know what happened from Friday evening to the noli me tangere moment with Mary. How can you prove the Resurrection if you don’t know what it is?
“Have you seen the sculpture in Rome that depicts the Resurrection as an explosion casting Christ into the air? Now that is imagination! I would sooner believe in that than improbable dematerialization or wildly speculative traversable Lorentzian escape hatches from space and time.”
I had forgotten about him mentioning a sculpture until just recently as I worked to recall and reconstructed this long ago discussion. I think I found the sculpture on the internet. It’s The Resurrection by Pericle Fazzini, installed in the pope’s Paul VI Audience Hall in Rome. The artist describes it thus:
An explosion from the earth, with olive trees in the air, stones, clouds, lightning bolts … like an enormous storm in the form of the world and Christ who rises serenely from all of this.
“I don’t believe that our Lord would try to prove anything to us. I think the Shroud would only diminish his great gifts of free will and faith. I should probably suggest to everyone tha they take the blood and the image, every observation, and every speculation with a serious grain of salt.”
I knew he was right. Thus began my looking at everything about the Shroud with that proverbial grain of salt.
As if to soften the blow, he smiled and said. “Many of our parishioners believe that the Turin Shroud is real. That’s okay. Maybe it’s a test. I’m delighted to have heard your talk. I learned many things.”
I did, too, Father. I did, too.