Station X: Christ Is Stripped of His Garments.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:7)
The thought that Christ might have died naked on the Cross seems to disturb a lot of Christians. With few exceptions, artistic studies of the Crucifixion down the ages show Jesus with his mid-section modestly covered. In some early renderings, he is even fully clothed in a long robe! The art on this page, depicting the disrobing of Jesus on Golgotha is no exception. Only Contemporary British Artist Peter Howson dares to portray Christ, naked, in a full frontal view.
John the Evangelist gives a fairly detailed account of what happened with Jesus’ garments after the Roman guards stripped him in preparation for the Crucifixion. Read John 19:23-24 more closely and you will discover there were enough odds and ends of clothing to be divided four ways among the soldiers, even before they cast lots for the seamless cloak. It makes you wonder how that beautiful flowing drape in standard Crucifixion scenes got left behind after those Roman predators had pawed through everything!
Crucifixion in the nude seems to have been standard practice throughout the Roman Empire. Some commentators contend loin clothes were allowed Jewish victims of Roman justice in deference to the sensibilities of the greater Jewish community, which considered the exposure of male genitals in public to be shameful. Given all the physical and psychological abuse Jesus endured that day, can we really expect he was left a shred of dignity in the form of a loin cloth? Why do we try so hard to spare the Savior of the World this one last insult?
False modesty has no place at Golgotha! I suspect the real reason we give Jesus a fig leaf has less to do with prudery than a bad “theology” of the body. The issue of clothes goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden--wherever you want to place it. Adam and Eve were nude before the Fall and naked afterwards, for in wanting to be as gods, they discovered shame. Christ was the Second Adam who came to restore humankind to its original dignity.
The Church has gotten issues of sexuality wrong a lot of the time, but Christian artists did get it right, for once, when they began showing the baby Jesus gloriously nude with his genitals in full view. As Leo Steinberg points out in his fascinating book, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, such art was nothing less than a celebration of the Incarnation.
Christ was no flesh-denying Gnostic, eager to shed his body to return to a spiritual state but a human being in every sense of the word. Looked at this way, we have every reason to give reverence to this unclothed Jesus, dying naked and exposed. He took all our shame upon himself to give us back the beauty of our beginning.
I thank you, Lord Christ, that you were fully human and fully God, taking on this human body so that you might glorify it through your Resurrection. Amen.