Community of Tampa | St. Pete | Florida

Christian Uniform

Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah uses the image of garments or clothing to describe mankind’s spiritual state, an allusion that we find from the very beginning to the end of scripture.  These words form the prophet Isaiah are among the first words I pray when I clothe myself for worship; “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Is 61:10

Our clothing is a profound image when speaking of heavenly things—which we will get to—but it is also a very important aspect of our daily lives. Practically clothes are important of course. When we went up to Boston for Christmas, Anna and I realized that we no longer have any winter clothes.  But then again, I realized, I don’t really have much of any clothes; just 10 black and white clergy shirts and 10 pants all in a row!  I do have one reddish purple one, and last week the Bishop assured me he was not intimated by me wearing it!  Well I actually love not having much choice in clothes; I love that I essentially wear a uniform.  My clothes, a shirt with a little white collar expresses who I am and what my work is about.  When people see me dressed as clergy, they sometimes treat me really nicely and sometimes keep extra distance.  But the clergy uniform expresses to people my affiliation with the church and implies a spiritual presence within me. Uniforms of doctors and soldiers are similarly powerful. Clothes can be very important indeed. 

And our society has strong rules about dress, which are so engrained that we rarely think about them.  The other day I had an eye opening conversation with someone who said he would come to church more often, but that he doesn’t have any dress clothes only shorts. I encouraged him to come of course, just wear your best shorts! But there are of course lots of rules about dress that we all follow. Would anyone here wear white to a funeral, or black to a wedding?  Absolutely not.  Why?  Because what you wear on the outside reflects something of how you are on the inside.  You are sad for the deceased and their family at a funeral, and the color which expresses your sympathy with the family is black; vice versa for a wedding.

We spend much time and money on clothes in this world, but they are even more significant in the world to come.  The Bible is preoccupied with clothing, with far too many images and illustrations to mention today. Suffice to say, that from the beginning of time, the very beginning, clothes mattered.  What was the first thing that Adam and Eve realized after they disobeyed God? They realized that they were now naked.  What is the last image we have of Jesus in the oldest ending of the Gospel of Mark? Our Lord himself stripped naked on the cross.  We come into this world naked, and we leave it so. We are mortals, our clothes peel off from us no matter how many shirts or dresses fill our closets.   Our bodies themselves are clothes, which one day we will shed.

Fortunately, in today’s reading, we are reminded that God’s people, you and I, are graced with access to an immortal garment, one which does not falter or fade. My very first prayer as a priest on behalf of you and I is for this undying garment.  As I put on my white shabig in the morning, I pray “Clothe me, Lord, with the garment of salvation and with a robe of gladness, and gird me with this vestment of salvation, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to whom is befitting glory, dominion and honor, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen

This powerful prayer, which I hope you all will pray-before worship and-why not-even when you dress every morning, acknowledges that every single baptized Christian has a uniform to wear, one which never falters or fades.  It is white, white like my shabig, white like your choir shabigs, white like the baptismal suits which we all wore.  It is so white that is it invisible, like light, like the God of light in whom there is no darkness at all.  But just because we can’t see it with our eyes, does not diminish the great power that we feel, and others feel when starting each day with the realization that we wear the uniform of Christ, his representatives to the world.

Our whole mission as Christians is to learn to ask for and wear this invisible cloak of grace.  To not worry and waste over clothing that temporarily hides our mortality, but to stand vulnerable before God as we are, trusting that he will clothe us in his grace and righteousness.  When we do this, we find that God’s garment of salvation, like all other clothing, expresses something essential to others about who we are on the inside.  To all of our brothers and sisters who are in a season of suffering they will feel our empathy and care, like cloth of the deepest black.  To everyone who is bogged down in the drab routine of life, they will feel our hope and joy, like cloth of the most radiant white.  To all who are facing loss and death, our cloak of grace expresses the undying hope that all things will be redeemed in Christ and made to shine like brilliant threads of gold and silver…which never fade and reflect the eternal light of Our Saviour, now and always, amen.

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