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The picture of Jesus

March 30, 2009

by Rev. Eugene M. Brown, Winsted

Christian people all over the world celebrate the passion and death of Our Lord on Good Friday. In reflecting on what he suffered for us, we are filled with gratitude and amazement at such love. It seems that there is absolutely nothing that he would not do for us.

We Christians of the 21st century sometimes find ourselves wishing that we had lived when he did; that we had been able to see him and talk with him face-to-face. That is not possible. We will have to wait until heaven for that. But did Jesus find a way to show us what he looked like? I think he did.

You have probably heard of the Shroud of Turin. Tradition says that this is the cloth in which the body of Jesus was wrapped when it was laid in the tomb. This cloth has been in the cathedral of Turin, Italy, since the 14th century.

I was privileged to visit Turin some years ago and see where the Shroud is kept. A replica is shown to visitors; the Shroud, itself, is put on display only for special occasions.

Some time ago, tests were conducted on the Shroud in order to learn whether it dates back to the time of Jesus; the tests seemed to indicate that the cloth dates from the Middle Ages. However, we know from history that some patches were added to the Shroud when it was in a fire around that time; these patches may have been tested and not the cloth itself.

It is not an article of Christian faith that this is the burial cloth of Jesus. We may accept or reject the scientific arguments. Science will probably never be able to prove conclusively either that the Shroud is genuine or that it is a fake.

I personally believe it is genuine. I have made something of a study of the Shroud. The evidence for its authenticity is overwhelming.

The image on the Shroud could not have been painted by anyone, because there is no trace of pigment on the cloth. Some researchers speculate that the image of a crucified man was formed by a chemical reaction between the cloth and the spices in which the body was wrapped. Others propose that a brilliant flash of light may have scorched the cloth and produced the image we see. We simply do not know how the image got there; we do know that it was not painted.

The anatomical details of the body – including the effects of crucifixion – are perfectly in accord with modern medical science. Even the most learned physician of the 14th century, assuming that he was also a skilled painter, would not have been able to sketch a human body with such accurate detail.

The image on the cloth is a photographic negative, and photography was not invented until the early 19th century. Before that, no one knew what a negative was. It was only after the Shroud was photographed in 1898, that the face became recognizable. The photographer who took the first pictures of the Shroud wrote later that he almost dropped the photographic plate when the image came up in the developer; he was the first person to see the true face on the Shroud.

It is highly unlikely that this could be the cloth of some other crucified man, not Jesus. Everything that happened to Jesus in the gospel accounts of the passion – scourging, crowning with thorns, the broken nose because of the blow on the face – is recorded on the cloth. What other crucified criminal was treated like a king and crowned with thorns?

The cloth itself is a very expensive linen, herringbone weave, of the type known in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus. Why would someone who died the death of a criminal be buried in a rich linen cloth – unless that person was Jesus? The gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a fine linen cloth and laid it in the tomb.

If this had been anyone other than Jesus, the cloth would have been destroyed when the body decayed. Who else who was crucified, rose from the dead on the third day?

The cloth contains blood stains made from direct contact of the cloth with the wounds. These blood stains show perfect detail, without smudging or smearing. There is no way that the cloth could have been removed from the body without disturbing the image of the wounds – unless the body rose from the dead and passed through the cloth as easily as Jesus passed through the rock which covered his tomb.

The face on the Shroud can only be described as majestic. What unknown painter could have painted such a face?

We may accept or reject the Shroud of Turin, but the unlimited love of Jesus for us cannot be denied. Believe in His love. Accept His love. And one day, in heaven, you will look upon His face.