The Shroud of Turin is "One of the most perplexing enigmas of modern times" so wrote National Geographic. People Magazine called it "The Riddle of the Ages". It is indeed an incredible mystery.
But there is a good news/bad news story with the Shroud. The bad news is that after thousands of hours of research and analysis, the cloth with its faint, blood stained image of a crucified man still remains a mystery. The good news is…everyone loves a mystery!
There are dozens of puzzle pieces in the realm of science, medicine, history, art and biblical studies that serve to captivate audiences, both secular and religious, in schools and in churches. The story is a rich mosaic one rarely encounters.
In a secular context, it is a marvelous method of exploring ancient art techniques and Orthodox Iconography. It tracks a historical trail that travels from Israel to Constantinople to Europe in the Middle Ages involving the Crusades, and the Knights Templars. It involves the modern study of medical forensics. It encompasses a wide range of scientific disciplines each one uncovering a different facet of the Shroud's innumerable mysteries.
In a religious context, the Shroud is a superbly effective visual aid to explore all aspects of Christ's crucifixion, the nature of his resurrection...and the promised resurrection of every believer. The approach can vary depending on the audience, but the central message of the Shroud remains the same. It is the message proclaimed in the scriptures. They are identical.
Why is the Shroud relevant to our time, on the eve of the next millennium? There are many people who stand on the sidelines of Christianity. They are not sure. They have many questions about God but are wary of organized religion. Yet the intriguing nature of the Shroud attracts those who would ordinarily never step inside a church. Young people especially enjoy the "X Files" factor with the possibility of the cloth having been exposed to a "paranormal event".
It is the mystery and the possibility of its authenticity that compels attention.
But the message is inescapable. Whether the Shroud is authentic or not, which will probably never be resolved, the message remains the same:
A seemingly Jewish burial shroud, blood stains from wounds of crucifixion and an inexplicable image, perhaps from the resurrection all come together to tell the greatest story ever told…in a picture. If it's real, then it is a document of a phenomenal miracle. If it is an artwork, then it represents the same wonderful truths as recorded in the Gospels.
If it is authentic, then it is the most valuable artefact on the entire planet because of what it represents and what it contains-the blood of Christ-God's ransom payment for all who choose to accept it by faith. If it turns out to be an ingenious artwork, then it was created to represent the same. Either way, as a visual tool, the message doesn't change.
The simplicity of the message transcends all Christian denominations. Its 2000-year history connects Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants under one common banner. It is not critical that we prove it one way or the other. By simply exploring the mystery of the Shroud we encounter its profound message of sacrificial love.
Interestingly, the deep things of God are all mysteries. The mystery of Christmas is the incarnation, God's gift to the world. Perhaps the Shroud is yet another gift to help us believe in the unbelievable, to restore hope when things seem hopeless, and to restore our childlike sense of wonder as we ponder the possibilities.
You can use the mystery of the Shroud to bring its message to those who need to hear it most. There are millions of "Doubting Thomases" in the world. Maybe the Shroud is God's way of allowing today's doubters to "see and believe" the way Thomas did. The Shroud can never replace faith, but it might be enough to get someone moving in the right direction.
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