When you work in the liturgical publishing world, your work calendar and life calendar often align in odd ways. I was writing an Easter season column just as I’d begun my in-earnest preparations for November, beginning with the white-robed hosts of Revelation on All Saints, and concluding with the gritty Son of Man on Christ the King, Year A. The resonances between All Saints and Easter—aside from the fact that they’re precisely five months apart from each other this year—struck me as quite profound.
So…here’s a November preview of that 2018 Easter season column:
When I was growing up, there was a definite clothing hierarchy inside the closets at our house. There were play clothes, which also were worn to help with inside chores or outside yard work, or with shoveling during the winter. There were school clothes, which were nicer, but on occasion got dirty or torn. Then came Sunday best (now an archaic concept), worn to church and for some other special occasions. Finally, there was the good suit, stored in the closet in a garment bag or dry cleaner bag, and brought out rarely—most often when someone was married or buried. Most every item of clothing that our family had would fit into one of these categories.
There was one other garment in the house: the small white baptismal gown that we all wore when we were baptized as infants. (To this day, there isn’t anyone in my immediate gene pool who was baptized as an adult.) This gown, handed around and handed down, was kept very carefully. It was wrapped in blue tissue paper so that the light wouldn’t make it dingy, and sealed thoroughly inside a plastic bag. It remained undisturbed, in a seldom-used drawer, until somebody needed it for another baptism.
That gown—like the albs worn by adults baptized at the Easter Vigil—is the sign of being clothed in, or having put on, Christ (see Galatians 3:27). In the baptismal rite (both for infants and adults), the newly-baptized is told to bring the white garment, unstained, into the kingdom of heaven.
While I understand why the baptismal rite is worded that way, there’s a part of me that thinks of our putting on Christ as being prepped TO get stained: sometimes by our own failings, other times by getting into a bunch of scuffles with evil and injustice, perhaps slobbered on as we work to feed the hungry, and on occasion using that Christ with whom we have been clothed to help others come up out of a place of trial, despair, or doubt—maybe ripping a seam or a sleeve in the process if need be.
Discipleship is often and down ‘n’ dirty thing. I’d like to believe that if I show up at the throne of mercy and grace one day in a Christ-garment that was well-worn, wrinkled, ripped and patched, with sweat marks and a few faint never-quite-came-out stains because I’d truly engaged life fully and actively, gratefully doing my best to be alive in Christ with Christ alive in me—well, then, I hope I’d be ushered into God’s reign along with everyone who had managed to keep their garment spotless—grimy and frayed as I may be.
There are a lot of ways in which the reign of God that Jesus came to tell us about is an upside-down place. It’s in that spirit—and through water and the Spirit—that I increasingly believe our Christ-clothing needs to be stored right next to the play clothes and the work/chore clothes. Maybe then “Sunday best” will truly describe how we’re living.