What Peter Saw

This sermon was presented on the Festival of the Resurrection, April 4, 2010, at Resurrection Lutheran Church, by Pastor Jim Kniseley.  The lessons are Luke 24:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:19-26.


Dear Friends in Christ,


I’ve given this Easter sermon  a title: “What Peter Saw.”  I am struck by the last verse of today’s gospel reading:  But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”


“Amazed at what had happened.”  We are given every indication here that Peter believes at this point that the resurrection of Jesus did happen as the women had told him, yet he doesn’t believe because he has seen the risen Jesus.  He believes  because of what he saw with the linen cloths.  What did he see that convinced him?


The gospel writer John gives us a little more information:  Peter went into the tomb.  He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around the head of Jesus.  The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen (20:6-7). 


I am fascinated by the Shroud of Turin.  Many of us have heard about the shroud for years.  It is housed in the Cathedral in Turin, Italy, and is reported to be the actual linen wrapping that was put around the dead body of Jesus, the linen cloth that Peter saw in the tomb.   Is it true?  Is the Shroud of Turin really the linen cloth mentioned in the gospels?


The most fascinating aspect of the shroud is the facial image that is permanently portrayed on the cloth.  Is it the face of Christ? 


This linen shroud we have hanging on the Easter Cross today is close to the size of the Shroud of Turin.  The Shroud is 14 feet long and 3 and ½ feet wide.  In 1988 the Vatican agreed that scientists from around the world could study the shroud to authenticate that it was first century and could be the actual shroud of Jesus.  What these scientists revealed from their 5 days with the shroud and then months of study is this:

·         The body was stretched out, probably on a slab, and the cloth went around it from head to toe on both sides of the body.

·         Fire had scorched the shroud sometime in the 11th century and repairs had been done.

·         The body was of a large man for his era, 5 feet, 11 inches (the average Jewish man in the 1st century was 5 feet, 3 inches).

·         A spectral analysis showed whip lashes, with all 100 lashes going the same direction.  Each whip mark had three prongs at the end of the mark, indicating an extra way to rip the skin.

·         There were wounds not through the palms but through the wrists.

·         They found puncture wounds in the skull and little droplets of blood run down the head, as if the skull had been punctured by a crown of thorns.

·         And running down the backside was a flow of blood coming out of a puncture wound – someone had punctured this man with a sword.

·         They expected to see the legs broken, but this man’s legs were not broken, as the Bible tells us.


What about the Shroud?  How was it possible to create a perfect photographic imprint on a piece of cloth from the 1st century?  The scientists finally had to report their conclusion:  There must have been some sudden explosion of energy whereby there was a photographic imprint left of a body on both sides.  What actually happened was beyond their ability to explain.


The carbon 14 dating process determined something very disheartening in 1988.  The sample of cloth was not from the 1st century and was no older than the 14th century.  The Shroud of Turin was labeled a hoax.  That might have been the end of the story. However,  just recently  it was discovered that the piece of the cloth used to do the carbon 14 dating was really a repair to the fire damage.  The repair is from the 14th century and now many folks want to have the carbon 14 dating done to a piece from the main part of the Shroud, and that is controversial.  We don’t know if the Vatican will allow it.


Let me give you more of the intrigue of the image on the shroud.  Medical experts tell us that the person portrayed on the shroud was not lying down when the flash of light occurred that left the photographic imprint.  The hair of the person is falling down right at the face (as a person standing) and not falling back (as a person lying down).  It appears that the dead man has been lifted up from the position of burial and is upright in mid-air (the souls of the feet are up and not down).


Do we believers have an explanation for any of this?  The answer is “yes.”  In Scripture, flashes of light occur at the times of God’s greatest miracles.  We remember the flash of light that blinded Saul on his way to Damascus.  We remember the burning bush when God first spoke to Moses.  We remember the pillar of fire by night that led the people of Israel through the wilderness.  We remember the flames that appeared on the heads of all believers on the Day of Pentecost.  The gospel writer Matthew simply tells us that there was an earthquake and we have always assumed that the earthquake is what rolled the rock away from the tomb opening, but perhaps the earthquake and the flash of light occurred together.


What does it matter that Jesus was raised from the dead?  What does Jesus resurrection have to do with us today?  Let someone speak who actually saw that flash of light on the road to Damascus and who heard the voice of Jesus speak to him.  Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians:  Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.  In other words, Jesus’ resurrection shows that death can be conquered, and it will be done so by Jesus.  And each and every one of us can experience resurrection and new life.


Let me end with a wonderful preschool story.  The preschool teacher was telling her Sunday School Class about the resurrection of Jesus and she asked, “What do you think Jesus said to the disciples when he came out of the tomb?”  No one had an answer except one little girl who excitedly waved her hand.  “I know, I know.”  With that she got up and extended her arms, “Ta-dah!”


Children don’t question, they just accept and believe.  Oh that we all could have that sense of belief on Easter.


He is risen!

He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!