Archaeologists recently announced that they had made a significant find in the ruins of a church that had been built in 660 A.D. in present-day Turkey: a small stone coffin containing a wood fragment that in the past was venerated as coming from the cross of Jesus Christ.
That such an object was so venerated is not unusual – fragments that supposedly came from Jesus’ cross are still around today, including at the Shrine of the True Cross in Dickinson, Texas.
According to legend, in the fourth century, Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, traveled to Jerusalem, located the cross of Jesus and had pieces of it kept in Jerusalem and distributed to Constantinople and Rome.
Fragments then made their way to locations throughout the world.
There is no way to know whether the fragment found in Turkey, or any of the other fragments, are in fact what some of the faithful believe them to be.
When I read the story about the find in Turkey, though, I couldn’t help but imagine the folks in the lab on television shows such as “CSI,” “Bones” or “NCIS” checking the fragment to see if it contained some of Jesus’ DNA.
The problem would be that we don’t have any known examples of Jesus’ DNA to which the experts could compare what they found on the cross fragments.
When you stop and think about it, though, Jesus does have close kin who are alive right here and right now – that would be you, me and all others who are his sisters and brothers.
We share his spiritual DNA; we are members of his family and he of ours. God dwells in the church, and the church dwells in God.
Here’s the hard question: if a CSI analyst could conduct a test on us to determine how close kin to Jesus we really are, what would it show?
How many markers – how much love, how much mercy, how much grace, how much forgiveness, how much service, how much sacrifice, how much humility, for example – would we share in common with Jesus?
The good news is that by the grace of God, by the work of the Spirit and by the practice of Christian disciplines like worship, solitude, prayer and study we can continuously grow in those characteristics that define a brother or sister of Jesus.
Physical DNA test results are what they are; spiritual ones can improve. Thanks be to God!
Michael Ruffin is pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, On the Jericho Road, and is used with permission.
Curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.