A Linen Shroud


And he bought a linen shroud, and taking Jesus down, wrapped him in it, and laid him in a tomb which had been cut out of the rock. Mark 15:46

A couple of years ago, an artist associated with our parish died. As a tribute to his life and labor, we exhibited a few of his works in our gathering space. Many people came for the exhibit and spent time with the impressive canvases of garden flowers, fruits, and other objects of nature. Some of the paintings were enormous oils with heavy gilded frames; others were diminutive, almost whimsical portrayals of the basic things of life yet portrayed in grandiose style.

The more I lived with these paintings the less I saw of the objects. Walking through the space each day I gained a new perspective on his work. Gradually, as if thread by thread, I began to notice that every painting had a linen cloth wrapped deep within the composition. Not an afterthought or casual object of Renaissance style, the cloth struck me as the central figure, the very essence of each painting. This incredible artist had taken a negative space and emphasized it so much that the cloth became the centerpiece of the composition. And in every case, the cloth was white. He had given us an image of nature’s rebirth amidst the flowers and fruits, and at the same time, he had bestowed something of our own rebirth into each composition by transforming simple linen into a shroud of resurrection.

We often miss resurrection. It’s there, right beside us each day. But somehow, we become so fixed on all the objects around us that we fail to see the central theme. So when things are crazy, we focus on the elements creating the chaos instead of the undercurrent of hope and joy amidst it all. We become so absorbed in the details, we fail to see the deep abiding theme of new life running like a beautiful shroud throughout life.

I now return to the image of the shroud when I lose sight of God’s resurrection in my life. Having that image has helped me when the details start to control and I forget the total composition of my life. I begin to see the white linen – something left behind – as evidence that new birth, new life is taking place. I stop and visualize how that shroud looks in my life and I start looking for it amidst all the busyness that captures me. And the incredible thing – I have yet to find a place where God has not already left that beautiful shroud for all of us to see.

About the Author: The Rev. Michael Sullivan is Rector of St John’s Episcopal Church, Lynchburg, Va, and author of Windows into the Soul – Art as Spiritual Expression, Morehouse, 2006.

On View: Untitled, with white, by Taylor Harbison. 2003. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Daniel Garza and the Estate of Taylor Harbison.

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