Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: The naked truth of Christ’s resurrection
Ryan Summerlin March 29, 2013
Christ’s resurrection offers twin benefits. There’s new life of fresh perspectives before and after we die.
Christ’s rising from the dead in the Bible alludes in a curious way to these benefits of new life before and after we expire. Jesus’ burial clothes are left folded after his resurrection.
Either he or an angel showed Martha Stewart’s fastidious trait. Cloths used to dress Jesus’ body are tidily arranged after the whirlwind of the resurrection upset everything else in the open tomb.
Then Simon Peter came to the cemetery, with out-of-breath John trailing. Peter “went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been at Jesus head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself” (John 20:6).
These folded clothes show Christ arose without a thread tying him down. Rising naked suggests death couldn’t place Christ in a straitjacket to smother any chance of resurrection.
Nakedness shows he’s invincible. Moreover, rising naked indicates Christ’s transparency of spirit wasn’t hidden under layers of “cultural clothing” that often dictate how we live.
The risen Christ’s invincibility against death and transparency of spirit are twin benefits that enrich life.
Michelangelo, along with other artists, depicts Christ naked, released from the grave. Painting “The Risen Christ,” Michelangelo etches his supple body, glistening with a six-pack. Arms thrust heavenward, Christ confidently tilts his head. This body language declares death’s straitjacket can’t contain him.
Michelangelo’s no prude. Whereas we might feel uncomfortable seeing a man unclothed, this artist portrays Christ without a thread to hold him down.
On Easter, modest preachers refrain from preaching about the naked Christ. Undressed bodies often embarrass us. Some subjects are better left in the shower or bath.
Most Christians prefer to ignore Michelangelo’s naked Easter Christ. They point to an opening biblical narrative in which Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden as innocent as babies who love to sprint naked.
After sampling some forbidden fruit, their glowing perception of being in the buff darkened. Eve and Adam felt shame. Consequently, they found a way to cover their bodies.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:7).
Biblical readers assume Adam and Eve placed fig leaves where the sun never shines.
However, when shame makes our faces crimson, we shield our eyes. Some biblical commentators believe the fig-leaved aprons functioned as visors Adam and Eve wore to cover guilty faces.
The biblical narrative makes explicit God favors their modesty, also. He perfected coverings for private body parts.
“The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
What are we to make of Christ rising from the dead naked? What does Michelangelo’s startling imagery proclaim about Easter?
Dr. Sam Portaro, retired Episcopal college chaplain, reveals the meaning of the Easter story that preachers cover up. He writes, “The nude resurrected Jesus is Jesus at his most vulnerable. Even in the manger he was vouchsafed the swaddling clothes. Bursting forth from the tomb in the altogether, this naked man challenges our every notion of security, protection, privacy and personhood. In his naked state, he presents himself to us without barrier, gives himself over to us without pretense or protection.”
Isn’t it difficult and sometimes scary to shed pretense and become authentic? It’s a striptease from which we flee.
We clothe ourselves with conventional garments. Who wants to break the mold and be thought silly or odd? Who dares reform social conventions? Who wants to shed these cultural clothes that dress social norms? Who dares stand figuratively naked before friends, family and God, showing hidden blemishes?
Passing an etched window at Denver International Airport, I stopped to read Walt Whitman’s (1819-1872) inscription. He scorned prickly social conventions. Uncovering his naked self didn’t come easily. Whitman at first put on false bravado and played to the crowd. He wrapped himself in suffocating customs, not recognizing his true, naked self.
Then resurrection! He, like the nude Christ, dropped cheesy coverings. He wrote in his epic poem Leave of Grass: “That shadow, my likeness that goes to and fro, seeking a livelihood chattering, chaffering. How often I find myself standing and looking at it where it flits. How often I question and doubt where that is really me. But in these, and among lovers, and caroling my songs, O I never doubt whether that is really me.”
Emulate Whitman and the risen Christ this Easter. Show personality wrinkles and age spots that clothes hide.
Do they matter? With transparency, new life appears freed from staid convention.
People sing in the shower because they feel uninhibited, free and unburdened. They are cleansed of pretense, convention and conformity.
Exposing our true selves makes us feel fresh.
Follow Michelangelo’s lead. The naked truth about Christ’s resurrection grants us new life.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.