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Edward F. Markquart

It just may be truer than you believe! The Shroud 

EASTER     I Cor. 15

Grace to you and peace...

It was twenty  years  ago, 1978, that a group of 30 scientists gathered together to study it.  They came from a variety of scientific specialties:  pathologists, chemists, microbiologists, physicist, textile experts, photographic experts.  They came together for the first time in 1978 to apply scientific technology  to a piece of cloth.  This piece of cloth was made out of linen;  it was 14 feet long and 3 and a half feet wide;  and it was used to wrap around the body of a person who was thought to have lived in the first century.  The body was stretched out on a slab and the cloth went around it like this, from head to toe on both sides of the body.  Many people were convinced that this piece of cloth may have been used to wrap around the body of Jesus. It is called the Shroud of Turin, housed in the Cathedral of Turin, Italy since the 14th century. 

The microbiologists went to work first and studied the pollen, those small microorganisms which have distinct qualities from different parts of the world.  And sure enough, this piece of cloth, for sure, had been in Palestine.  ...  The textile experts went to work and yes, it was apparently true, this piece of cloth came from about the time of the first century.  And there on one corner of the cloth, it had been scorched by fire, a fire sometime from the 11th century.  So, yes, indeed, these scientists did conclude, that yes, it was in Palestine; yes, it was from the first century.  ...  And then a group of photographic experts went to work on the cloth and these were the kind of photographic experts who were specializing in spectral analysis.  They were the same scientists who used their technology on the photos of Mars, the moon and close-ups of our spaceships.  By the use of spectral analysis, they were able to create a three dimensional image of that image on the shroud.  And now for the first time, in 1978, they saw a three dimensional photograph of this man from the first century.  And they were shocked.  They were almost terrified by what they saw. ... First, he was so huge.  He was absolutely enormous.  5 feet, 11 inches tall.  A big brawny man.  The average size of a Jewish male in the first century was 5 feet, 3 inches tall.  This man was 7,8,9 inches taller than the average man of his time. ... His face looked like a lumberjack, like a boxer with a broken or swollen center nose.  His face was so big and full, long yet broad. ... And then this spectral analysis photography showed the whip lashes on his back.  And whoever whipped him, whipped him in one direction, with all 100 slash marks going the same direction.  ...  Each whip mark had three prongs at the end of the mark.  Archeologically, we know this weapon well.  At the end of the whip, there were little iron balls, and on the end of the iron ball, was a small little sharp edge like a nail.  And with three-dimensional photography, you could actually see where the edges on the iron ball dipped down into the flesh.  100 times.  And you knew that this person had been flogged harshly.  ...  Also, as they looked at this person, they saw a spike wound.  Now, that is very curious and very interesting.  For nineteen hundred and sixty years, all Christian art has pictures of the holes going through the hands.  For more than nineteen hundred years, all pictures have holes in his hands.  Every picture.  Right through the middle of the palm of the hand.  And then, in l968, archeologists, for the first time, discovered bones of a person who had been executed by the Romans in the first century, and they discovered that the holes went right through the wrists.  The Greek word for hand includes the hand and the wrist.  And in the spectral analysis of the shroud, where are the holes? In the palm of the hands?  No, in the wrists. Interesting. Very interesting.  ...  But there is more.  At Roman executions you would expect floggings and whip lashings and you would expect nails through the wrists.  That was common to all executions.  But these scientists found things that wouldn’t expect to be part of a normal Roman execution:  that is, they found puncture wounds in the skull and little droplets of blood which had run down the head as if the skull had been punctured by a crown of thorns.  A crown of thorns was not a normal part of a Roman execution.  ...  And those scientists who were doing this research started to get a little nervous ...  And running down the backside was a flow of blood coming out of a puncture wound...that someone had punctured this person with a sword.  And as they saw that flow of blood, they started to get even more nervous because Roman soldiers didn’t normally use the sword at the executions.  ....  They expected to find the legs broken as happens at most Roman executions, but these legs hadn’t been broken at all, as is told to us in the Biblical story.  ...  And they started to get more nervous about this shroud.   ....  But what made them most nervous of all was how was it possible to create a perfect photographic imprint on a textile from the first century.  How was that possible to do that?  It couldn’t have been painted.  No.  It was a perfect photographic negative on that shroud.  Now, how did that happen?  I ask you, how did that happen?  I ask you, as the scientists were asking, how did that happen?  How did that photographic imprint get on that shroud?  Do you know? And finally those scientists concluded that there must have been some sudden explosion of energy whereby there was a photographic imprint left of a body on both sides.  They were starting to feel uneasy that maybe the story of the resurrection of Jesus was true, was truer than they thought.

A similar reaction occurred in 1898, a century ago, when a French photographer, for the first time, took a picture of the Shroud of Turin, with one of those old cameras. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he accidentally did a reversal of the negatives, and there for the first time, he as a human being saw an image on the Shroud.  The man was so petrified by what he saw, he dropped the photographic plates.  He was so afraid.  Perhaps the story of Jesus’ resurrection was truer than he thought it was. 

A similar thing happened to me in June of 1980, when I was in my bedroom, and the National Geographic had just come the day before.  I can see it as if it were yesterday, which means I must have been very afraid, or I wouldn’t have remembered it so vividly, as I remember it now.  I was sitting there on the corner of my bed, at the foot of the bed, facing south, and I was reading the National Geographic that had just come in the mail, and I was thumbing through it, and I came to this story of the Shroud of Turin.  And I came to the last page of the article, and there was this face, this face, staring at me, a big long face, big forehead, swollen nose, darkened eyes, starring at me.  I was afraid.  Yes, I had been preaching that it was true for many years.  I had grown up to believe it was true as a little child.  But now, there in that moment, I was afraid, because maybe that the story of the resurrection was true, truer than I thought it was.

Easter.  Easter is that time of the year when the God of life, when the God who created life, is convincing us that he not only created life but that he his quite capable of creating eternal life.  Easter is that springtime of the year when we are reminded that the God who created ugly flower bulbs and transformed them into gorgeous tulips; and the same God who created crawly little caterpillars and transformed them into beautiful monarch butterflies; this same God is quite capable of taking the body of one man, Jesus of Nazareth, severely flogged and beaten, with a 100 lashes, with skull pierced and side punctured, taking that body which had been planted into the ground, and ...poof, transforming him into a totally different reality.  And this same God who created your crummy little body and mine is quite capable of planting our bodies into the ground and ...poof, transforming them into totally different, incredibly beautiful spiritual bodies in all their newborn splendor.  That’s what Easter is all about!!!  God is convincing us that the Resurrection is truer than we believe!

Easter is not only God convincing us that he’s capable of taking our crummy little earthly bodies and planting them into the ground and transforming them into splendored eternal beauty; Easter is a time when God is challenging the skeptic in us, the doubter in us, the questioner that lives in the corner of every one of our minds...who doubts that there is life after death...who doubts that God raised one man from the dead...  On Easter morning God starts to challenge the doubter and the skeptic inside of you.  And God starts to put you in the corner and says:  I challenge you to prove that I, God, do not exist.  Prove to me.  Prove to me if you can that I do not exist.  Or, prove to me that I the Lord God who  created all the life which is all around you that I could not have created eternal life.  You prove to me that eternal life does not exist!!!  I got you in a corner, you skeptic, you doubter.  Prove to me that I the Lord God can’t take one crummy bulb of a body like yours and transform it into incredible beauty.  And Easter is that day when God puts the intellectual doubter into a corner.  God challenges the skeptic in all of us. 

And so Easter is a great day.  It is the day in which God is convincing us of the resurrection and on that same day is challenging the skeptic that lives in the corner of every one of our hearts.  

And so we are no longer quite so afraid of death.  Death loses some of its power and sting.  I like that story about the bee.  It’s a favorite Easter story.  It is a story about a father and his seven-year old daughter who were riding around in the car.  It was a hot summer day, and one of those great big yellow bees flew into their car.  The little seven- year old daughter was very much afraid, and so was the father, and so he said: let’s get that bee out of here.  But they couldn’t.  It went ZZZZZZZZ, scaring them both.  They couldn’t get it out of the car, the bee flying up to the front window and then to the back window, buzzing past their heads.  And now the little girl was starting to get hysterical and the father was shouting at her not to be afraid, and about that time, that great big yellow bee lit right here on the father’s neck and stung the father.  And now the little girl became absolutely petrified and hysterical and began to cry and cry and cry.  The father tried to calm her down and finally said to her:  “You don’t need to be afraid anymore.  The bee has lost its sting; its stinger is right here in my neck; the bee has lost its sting.”  ....  And Jesus said:  O grave where is your victory; o, death where is your sting.  On Easter, the sting of death has been removed.  The stinger is located in the neck of Jesus of Nazareth.  We ride in our cars throughout life, still afraid, still afraid of death, like a little child is still afraid of a stingless bee.  The message of Easter is so clear:  there is no need to be afraid of death.  It has lost its string. Death looks and sounds so ferocious but it is harmless.

Afraid of death, afraid of that;  afraid to see the Savior’s face, welcomed home in warm embrace?  Afraid of that? 

This past week I have been thinking about Nathan, our little boy, who is eight years old.  I am thinking of him being back in Minneapolis Minnesota visiting grandma and grandpa.  It’s now time for him to come home, and we, his parents say, “It’s time to come home.  Grandpa and grandma will put you on the airplane, and we will be there to meet the airplane.  You can count on us.  We will be there.”  And Nathan gets on the airplane, sits down by someone.  This person says, “Little boy, aren’t you afraid to be taking this big trip by yourself?”  Nathan says, “No, not at all.”  The man says, “Well, why aren’t you afraid?”  Nathan says, “I know my mom and dad will be there to meet me.”  The man says, “How do you know for sure?”  Nathan says, “You don’t know my mother!  She’ll be there, early.”  And then the man, being a little sinister, says:  “What happens if your mom and dad don’t exist?”  Nathan looks at the stranger and says, “Whaaat?”  The man says, “What if we just fly around on this airplane forever and this airplane never lands?”  Nathan asks, “Are you OK sir? I am going home and I know for sure that my mom and dad are going to meet me.” ...  And so it is with God.  The Lord God who loves you, the Lord God who is your heavenly father, who saw you formed in your mother’s womb, the Lord God who watched you as a little toddler, the Lord God who has watched over you every day and night of your life; this God is not going to be there to welcome you home? God will be there to greet us just as Nathan’s mother and father were at the airport to greet him. That is just the way it is with loving parents. ...  Afraid of death?  Afraid of that?  Afraid to come home to your loving eternal father? 

You see, death doesn’t belong in God’s eternal home.  It’s not part of God’s eternal plan.  Death did not belong in first paradise, Eden, and doesn’t belong in the second paradise, Heaven. Death doesn’t fit.  Death isn’t part of God’s order of things.  By analogy, let’s say that you have a cinder in your eye.  It hurts;  your know that that cinder doesn’t belong there.  You know that.  It is not natural.  Cinders don’t belong in your eye.  And you do everything possible to get rid of it.  ....  Or let’s say that you have a rock in your shoe, and you are walking with a rock in your shoe, and you know that it doesn’t belong there.  It’s not natural.  You know that.  And you do everything possible to get rid of that rock.  ...Or, let’s pretend that you have a sliver just below your fingernail.  You know that that sliver does not belong.  It hurts. It doesn’t belong there. It is not natural.  And you do everything to get rid of it.  .... Let me tell you, death does not belong in God’s plan.  It is not natural.  It was not part of the Garden of Eden, nor is it part of his Garden of eternal Paradise.  And I tell you: God will do everything to get rid of that cinder of death, to get rid of the stone of death, to get rid of the sliver of death.  And that’s what Easter is all about.  God will do everything is his power to get rid of death. The Bible says that the last enemy to be defeated will be death itself.  God will get rid of it just like you get rid of that cinder in your eye.

That’s what Easter is all about; that the Lord God created life and eternity for you and me.  God through divine power raised Jesus from the dead; God took away the sting of death for you and me; and God will surely welcome you and me home with waiting arms when we die. “In heaven, there will be no more death and no more sorrow and no more pain, for all the former things of death have passed away.”  Easter is God’s great day in which he convinces us of the resurrection and challenges the skeptic in all of us who lives in the corners of our minds.

In conclusion, I would like to tell you a story from Montana, from Bannock Montana, 140 years ago, from the Bannock News, a story from gold mining days.  There was this group of six or seven gold miners who had been out prospecting and were attacked by Indians and lost all of their supplies.  Now they were going back to Bannock, a little burg of a town, about 350 people.  On their way back to Bannock, they crossed a creek bed, and as prospectors are prone to do, they reached down and picked up a rock from the creek.  They found a couple of absolutely gorgeous nuggets of gold.  They knew that this was a great find, and so the six or seven miners said: “Shhhh, let’s not tell anybody abut what we have seen, about what we have found.  Let’s go back to Bannock and get some mules, picks, shovels and other supplies and then come back on Monday. But we agree:  don’t tell anybody, and we will go to work and stake our claim.”  It came Monday morning, sunrise, and they were ready to leave Bannock, and there were three hundred people ready to follow them.  Why?  Who told?  And the Bannock News reported:  “Their smiles betrayed them.”  “Their smiles betrayed them.”  ... On Easter morning, our smiles betray us, for we have seen gold, the golden glory of eternal life, the golden glory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and there is that hidden smile within that reveals what we have seen and know to be true. 

Easter.  And it just may be truer than you believe.  Amen.

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