Nakedness: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
The sight of someone naked in the normally clothed world is profoundly disturbing. Many, if not most, of us have had the dream of being unclothed in some public situation. There is a sense of humiliating insecurity about the prospect.
It seems that in much of the world’s cultures, the right to be clothed is an almost fundamental and universal right in our common understanding. When we watch a film such as Schindler’s List, the sight of naked prisoners in a concentration camp is void of the erotic. Indeed, we want to look away, for their stripping is an intentional humiliation, It is a premonition of the awful death to come. Even the person we might not otherwise assist, a homeless man or woman on the street, can rest assured that someone will attempt to hide their nakedness. Is it embarrassment that impels us, or is it our own deep seated fear of humiliation and vulnerability?
Yet, in many of the paintings depicting the resurrected Christ, he is depicted in the nude or with just a piece of linen draped from his shoulder for the sake of modesty. Since the Gospel accounts tell us that the grave clothes were found folded within the tomb, it is understandable that artists might render the moment of Christ’s victory over death in this way. Moreover, their may be another theological point involved in that Christ is the “new Adam”, the one in whom humanity’s original state is restored.
Not surprisingly, this naked resurrected Christ is seldom considered in our theological reflections. Despite the salaciousness of the internet and modern media, there is still some discomfort with the human form. Yet, it may be, that at some profound level, we do understand and are somewhat scandalized by something more that this kind of resurrected Christ represents.
You see, Christ in his nakedness is God at his most vulnerable. The only other times in the Gospels and church tradition in which Christ is represented as being unclothed are at his baptism and at his scourging and crucifixion. (In Orthodox iconography, the waters of baptism hide Christ’s nakedness.) There is in each instance, a time of vulnerability in which temptation, or suffering, or both, stood close at hand. Even at his birth he was given swaddling clothes. Yet it is Christ unclothed – in baptism, at his death, in his resurrection – that he challenges our every idea of security, protection, privacy and personhood. You see, in his naked state he presents himself to us without barriers. He gives himself over to us in baptism, death and resurrection without pretense or protection.
There is, however, a more discomfiting thought that Baptism, the Cross and Resurrection are in themselves a stripping, and will involve a radical exposure of ourselves – to God and to others. It is not a comfortable thought. Yet it may be that this is exactly what the naked person in the waters of baptism is saying to us. It may be exactly this that the naked figure on the Cross is saying to us. It may be what the figure bursting from the tomb is saying to us. We are being told that the life of following Christ is one in which there is no promise of maintaining the protective, prohibitive barriers that we place between ourselves and others… between ourselves and the future… between ourselves and the past. If this is the case, then the assurance that we are given that eternal life is accessible to us here and now suggests that the life of baptism, the Cross and resurrection is an open life… a life without secrets, a life without shame.
This is a life in which we know full well the nakedness that is ours, and yet we have no need to hide from the truth of who we are, or, indeed, what we have done or what the future may hold for us. Instead, we are invited to a new life. A new life exemplified by the New Adam, without the shame of who and what we are as we walk with God in the cool of the evening. We will find that new life in all those ties and places in which we truly open ourselves to God and to others. We will find that new life in all those ties and places in which we receive the openness, the grace, and the forgiveness of God and others as the precious gifts they are… without hesitation and without equivocation.