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The Truth Naked

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Sermon for the second Sunday in Lent

There is a sculpture of the Crucifixion by Michelangelo which is quite unusual. It displays his usual skill and mastery over the stone from which he carves it. The figure of Our Lord is beautifully life-like and displays the great misery of one crucified. What is unusual is that Our Lord is naked – completely and utterly naked. Nothing is left to the imagination.

Does that trouble you? The crucifix that you’re most familiar with probably shows Our Lord clothed only in a loincloth. This is inaccurate. The fact is that people are crucified naked.

[PAUSE]

Nudity is something that Christians have struggled with for a long time. Some have revered the naked body, others have reviled it.  Pope Pius IX famously has the statues of naked men and women covered up in part of the nineteenth century reaction against nudity. St Francis strips naked before the bishop to show his contempt for worldly possessions. So why is it shameful? Why do people get hot under the collar about it?

God created us naked. Naked we come out of the womb. The first Christians are baptised naked. And yet, the moment someone comes on the television showing a little more flesh than usual, there’s an uproar. Some television programmes exist to display nudity precisely to scandalise “polite society”.

Perhaps one reason is because in our day and age, people equate nudity with sex. People deliberately change their bodies so that they will become more attractive when naked. They cover themselves in tattoos, have hair removed, even go in for plastic surgery so that they will look better with no clothes on. Some people develop dreadful eating disorders because they believe that their body is grotesquely ugly and they so desperately want to be beautiful, forgetting that they already are beautiful.

[PAUSE]

When Adam and Eve sin, they realise that they are naked. The truth of their sin is apparent to everyone like a bad tattoo. And so, in shame, they cover themselves because they know that God will see the Evil that they have done. Now that they know that what Good and Evil are, they know that God hates Evil and that they have to cover up this blemish. We see the young man, probably St Mark himself, stripped of his clothes as he runs away from those arresting Jesus. His nudity exposes his shame. And this shame taints us all.

We find ourselves in bodies that age, wither and fall to bits. Our beauty fades, even for those who try and change their bodies in order to remain beautiful according to the standards of a sinful world. The aging of our bodies is testament to our sinfulness because the wages of sin is death. Our society hates the sight of old people because it reminds them of this. Look at the efforts we go to to stay young! And yet, the aged body is no less beautiful to God than the young body. He created both.

St Paul reminds us of the great promise of God.

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”

When we rise again from the dead, we will still have our body. You would not be you without your body, just as your dead body would not be you. But God will give us immortality to put on like a garment. Death will not reign in our bodies and our nakedness will not be shameful because we will be without the sin that separates us from God.

So why wear clothes now? Why can’t we be naked now?

[PAUSE]

St Paul reminds us that we are always to behave respectably. When he writes his letters, the only women with uncovered hair were the prostitutes. So, Christian women should be modest in order to demonstrate a willingness to engage with secular society but not succumb to its excesses. The same is no less true for men. We often forget the terrible part that men play in degrading the bodies of women and their own by encouraging them to dress provocatively. By remaining decently clothed, we show our community that we will not give ourselves over to its disrespect of the naked body.

To God we will always be naked, but then we should want to be naked before God. When we stop hiding ourselves from Him, when we reveal the sins we have committed, the dark thoughts we have imagined and the wicked motives we have harboured, then He will do something about them and make us beautiful again in our own eyes. We will be glorious because our sinful bodies will be like His glorious body. Confession allows us to see our own beauty again.

[PAUSE]

We should not be scandalised by the sight of a naked Jesus. He is naked for us to show that, in Him, there is no shame and great beauty in being the people He created

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