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Mark 15:42-47; Matthew 27:57-66; Luke 23:50-56; & John 19:38-42

11.05.2010

Caedmon’s Call refers to this next, brief phase of the story as, ‘that long Saturday between [His] death and the rising day, when no one wrote a word, wondering, “Is this the end?”‘

From a distance of 2000 years, the 36-or-so hours between Jesus’ death and His resurrection seem like nothing.  But for the disciples, it had to seem like eternity (and not the kind they were promised!). 

One thing I noticed this time through was the attention payed by all four writers to the linen shroud in which Jesus was buried.  This is the garment that many people believe to be housed in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin: the Shroud of Turin. 

I won’t get into the details of the debate about the shroud, but it leads me to the topic of relics.  Relics are physical elements we believe to be associated with prophets, saints, or Jesus in some way and that still retain the power of the Spirit in their current form.  People use relics as central to their devotion and worship and believe that the relics can heal or bless them in some way.  These relics range from this kind of shroud to personal effects to purported splinters of the true cross to bone fragments of saints. 

In fact, many Medieval European cities grew up around chapels that claimed to house a specific relic, such as the anklebone of St. So-and-so.  People would journey from all over the continent to worship (at?) these relics and be blessed by them.  The towns grew up as shops and inns and pubs and hospitals, etc., were needed to support this constant traffic of people.

While belief in the powers of relics is still common in Catholic cultures, it’s hard for a post-Enlightenment Protestant to come to terms with this element of faith.  In fact, Calvin wrote a Treatise on Relics in which he accused them as being born out of falsehood and deceit. 

But I wonder if there’s a cultural limitation going on here.  We heirs of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment cannot process claims or experiences that lie outside of our systematic, top-down, logically based theories and philosophies.  I wonder if we, as a faith community, are poorer for that.  That’s not to say that relic-believing cultures have a better or richer faith because I think that our logical approach and analytical frameworks have value on their own.  Maybe this is just another highlight, like ritual, of the trade-offs between Christian faith traditions that are an outgrowth of our fallen state.  I look forward to a Heaven where we can be both analytically satisfied like a Western intellectual and overcome with devotion and amazement like a Medieval pilgrim.

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