by Pastor George Van Alstine
Archeological excavations under the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome have uncovered a number of human bones. Since this is on Vatican Hill, the traditional site of Peter’s death by crucifixion, it’s not surprising that many devout Catholics believe that some of these bones actually belonged to that famous disciple of Jesus.
“Relics” is the term used for physical remnants of holy people and places from the past history of the church, going back even to Bible times. These may be actual body parts, such as bones or mummified remains, clothing, or personal effects, utensils, jewelry, etc., or they may be physical remnants of important events, such as pieces of the cross on which Jesus died.
The veneration of relics was very prominent in the worship of the Middle Ages. It gave spiritual comfort to believers to be near a physical object that made them feel in touch with the Biblical stories of faith. However, over time, the popularity of relics lead to more and more abuses. Bogus relics proliferated, and it became impossible to decide which were genuine and which were forgeries. It has been said that there were enough “pieces of the true cross” circulating in the Christian world to build a large house. Sometimes there were battles between bishoprics or kingdoms as to who had the real relic, and it was not unheard of for one to take by force or steal an object of veneration from another. Possibly the worst impact of the focus on relics was that it could easily distort personal devotion, so that a believer might be placing faith in a physical thing, rather than in the spiritual reality it represented.
Here’s a very important fact: THERE ARE NO RELICS OF JESUS’ BONES! That’s because of the central fact of the Christian message – his bodily resurrection from the dead. It is clearly taught in the Gospels that Jesus literally rose from the grave, body, soul and spirit. He did not drift off as an ephemeral ghost departing from the physical prison he had inhabited. He claimed the body as redeemable and part of the eternal person. This whole-person resurrection was so profound that, even in the darkest period of church history, when first-hand contact with the Bible was very limited for the average believer, they still knew better than to believe that a relic might be a “true bone of Jesus.” They knew none of his bones could be around because he took them all with him!
The nearest thing we have today to a relic of Jesus is probably the Shroud of Turin, a cloth which seems to bear an image of a man outlined by stains. People who venerate the shroud believe they can discern markings consistent with bloody wounds caused by crucifixion, and they believe this is the cloth in which Jesus’ followers wrapped his body. Many books have been written and a variety of scientific studies have been done. However, the earliest historical mention of the Shroud is in the Thirteenth Century, and scientific analysis seems to verify a similar general date for its origin. The Shroud appears to be either an interesting coincidence or an outright fraud.
So, what does this lack of Jesus bone relics mean to you? What does the fact that he rose as a whole person, body as well as soul and spirit, imply about your own resurrection hope? When the Apostle Paul says that “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20), doesn’t that indicate that your resurrection will also be whole person, body, soul and spirit? What does that say about how you treat your body, weak or aging as it may be? Do you respect it and take care of it? Can you imagine what your resurrection body will be like?