Adapted from older postings

When, in the context of the Shroud of Turin, we start talking about the Resurrection, it is important to define what we mean. It is all too easy to assume everyone, whether they believe in the Resurrection of Christ or not, shares our understanding of the word. This is particularly so when we talk about using the Shroud to try and prove the Resurrection is real.

Around eight years ago, Ellen Painter Dollar, a frequent contributor to publications like “Christianity Today,” “Sojourners,” and “Patheos,” penned a thought-provoking article titled “Why We Need the Resurrection.” This article is currently featured on the website of St. James’ Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. It reads, in part:

But the resurrection is a hard sell. It looks an awful lot like wishful thinking. Dead bodies don’t just up and walk around, asking for breakfast and appearing in locked rooms. What really happened that Sunday morning?

Of course, we can’t know for sure, but theologians have spent centuries taking a stab. Some say that the disciples experienced some kind of prolonged shared vision—not a hallucination that existed only in their minds, but a vision tangible enough, real enough, for disparate people to agree on what they were seeing and hearing. They saw and interacted with something real that looked and walked and talked like Jesus, that was Jesus, but was something other than Jesus’s cells and organs and protoplasm resuscitated from the grave. The resurrected Jesus’s body didn’t behave the way bodies usually do—take the locked room appearance, for example, or that he appeared to different people in different places around the same time. Scholars point out that when Paul defends the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he links his own experience of seeing a powerful vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus with the first disciples’ post-resurrection sightings, implying that he thinks they had the same sort of vision that he had, rather than an interaction with an actual dead body that was no longer dead.

Other theologians have said, no, it’s not that complicated. The resurrected Jesus was not some kind of vision. Jesus’s body was dead and lying in a grave, and then it was alive. Thomas put his hands into the wounds, after all. The resurrected Jesus ate, walked, and talked. Why would a vision need to eat? Anglican theologian N.T. Wright argues that Paul knows how to write about a less tangible, more metaphorical resurrection, such as when he writes about believers gaining a new life as a result of baptism. When he writes about the resurrected Jesus, Wright says, Paul is not being metaphorical; he is describing what happened. Paul contrasts the buried Jesus with the living Jesus, implying that they are one and the same.

So was the resurrection a literal resuscitation or some kind of vision? Theologian Marcus Borg argued that it doesn’t matter that we know exactly what happened. He rejects a literal resurrection of Jesus’s dead body, but also hesitates to say that something “mystical” or “spiritual” happened, because in our scientifically oriented culture, calling something purely “spiritual” tends to diminish its meaning. He says something clearly remarkable happened in the resurrection, whatever the mechanism. He also says it’s clear that the disciples experienced Jesus as alive in a concrete, transformative way. Borg wrote,

The central meaning of Easter is not about whether something happened to the corpse of Jesus. Its central meanings are that Jesus continues to be known and that he is Lord. The tomb couldn’t hold him. He’s loose in the world. He’s still here. He’s still recruiting for the kingdom of God.

That’s pretty much where I come down on the resurrection too. Something clearly happened that transformed a bunch of bumbling, dejected disciples into people of steady conviction willing to travel the world preaching good news, and die for it if necessary. I don’t need to know exactly what happened, or understand exactly how it happened, to allow myself to be transformed by the resurrection.

How might we envision the Resurrection?

My favorite envisioning comes by way of a Catholic priest, the pastor of a large New York parish and very much a skeptic-of-the-Shroud of Turin. 

Dematerializing is not resurrection. Nor is exiting the tomb. Nor is it 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. . . . 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 knees and then his feet in the garden near Mary Magdalen. Why not?


When miracles are considered within a religious tradition, they are often seen as divine interventions that may not be fully comprehensible within the limits of human understanding or natural laws. In other words, by their very definition, miracles are phenomena that we wouldn’t expect based on our understanding of the natural world.

However, the belief in miracles often doesn’t stem from a direct comprehension of how they would be possible, but rather from an understanding of their implied significance or effects. Though I am not Catholic, but Anglican (Episcopalian in the United States), I put great stock in the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says:

No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses.

Catechism of the Catholic Church  (#645)

To me that says not entangled with nature, unaffected by and not causing radiation, energy, atomic interactions, or testing the constructs of theoretical physics.

Saint Thomas Aquinas offers us a useful analogy from his seminal work, “Summa Theologica,” and his study of angels.  Aquinas argued that angels are incorporeal beings, composed only of spirit, with intellect and will. They don’t occupy physical space in the way that ordinary humans do, but they can appear in physical form to humans when necessary for their divine missions, as seen in numerous biblical accounts. They can manipulate matter and interact with the physical world, but their true nature remains spiritual. When going from place to place they do not pass through the in-between nor take time to do so.

If this is so for mere angels, why not the risen Christ, as well. Why can he not be where he wills whenever he wants: in the locked upper room, on the road to Emmaus, in front of Mary, on the road to Damascus? He has no need to dematerialize or transition to other dimensions or travel through wormholes. He is . . .

not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills

Catechism of the Catholic Church  (#647)

Corpus in spiritum et spiritus in corpus

This I believe: There are no moments, no arrows of time in a miracle. Time explicitly does not exist. There is no moment when a miracle has started but not yet ended. There is no moment, for instance, when water is in the process of becoming wine. There is no moment when carbon atoms, that do not exist in water but are essential to wine, are becoming carbon. The carbon, normally found  in the wine we drink, was created sometime well after the Big Bang in red giant stars, which in their dying, compressed with enough force to fuse a helium-4 nucleus with a beryllium-8 nucleus. It made its way into our gravitation trap over eons, to our earth in particular, well before the first plant or creature emerged. We and good wine share some very ancient atoms. 

Madeleine L’Engle, the author of “A Wrinkle in Time” and other Christian books for children, would go about playfully telling her young fans that she was made of stardust. They thought she was being joyfully silly. She was not. Carl Sagan put it very well: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

To my way of thinking, there are two ways to change water into wine: 1) nature’s way which includes crushing and fermenting grapes or 2) God’s way at Cana, which ignores nature altogether and is beyond our ability to comprehend. 

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the person in charge of the banquet.” So they took it.  (NRSV)

What was water is suddenly wine. There was no swapping in and out of atoms or molecules or anything. There was no process at all. Water was water and then it was wine. There was no moment when the water was becoming. Scripture, if you take it quite literally, seems to be intentionally telling us this. 

Can we imagine fish and bread forming by atoms pouring in from someplace over the horizon during the feeding of the multitude? Or was the food just there as needed?  It seems starkly free of any process. Are we to imagine a process when a man’s eyesight is being healed, partially healed after one second and the rest of the way healed after two, three, four? 

I’m guessing that the Resurrection is supra-conceptually so. I’m thinking,  a gazillion times more amazing.   

If the Resurrection is real and it was physical, which is what I believe, then it seems to me that Jesus’ body was in the tomb and then it wasn’t. He did not walk out, fly out, stream out, dematerialize, go through a wormhole or visit some other dimension. Nor did a cloth fall through a mechanically transparent body; there was no motion at all since there was no time for that. There was no vacuum where Jesus had been, not even for an instant. And since there was no time, which nature requires, there was no radiation or any anything. There was no process of resurrection. From nature’s point of view, and history’s too, there was only a before and after.

I personally believe that all these definitions (and yours, too) are acceptable. But which one do you mean?

If the Shroud is the real deal, then I think the image was not caused by the Resurrection; it was not caused by energy or radiation or anything like that. It would be more like the wine at Cana; the image there on the cloth miraculously by no means other than the will of God. That, it seems, is more affirming of the Resurrection then our many attempts at made-up science.