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  • Noel Ramsey

“Dressing for the Occasion” – A reflection on Colossians 3:1-11

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Dressing for the Occasion | Knox Presbyterian Church

How much thought do you put into getting dressed in the mornings? To be honest, I never gave it much thought to what I would wear every day until I entered my late teenage years. I would look in my drawer, see what was clean, or if I couldn’t tell, smell it and throw it on – forget color co-ordination, or God forbid, a shirt needed ironing. My teachers and friends at high school would laugh and tell me I looked like I just rolled out of bed. While I am much more conscious about what I wear day to day, there are still times when I have to ask Doris if what I am wearing is appropriate for the occasion or if a colored tie goes well with a shirt, or if I am over dressing. Color co-ordination and discerning the appropriate attire is something that isn’t one of my gifts.

Getting dressed is part of our daily routine and our daily activities influences what we wear. If we are ill, we often have a ‘pajama day’, wear jeans if we are gardening or don more formal wear if we are going to work or Church. Despite the seemingly simple act of getting dressed in the morning, there is an intentionality that goes into dressing for the appropriate context that can sometimes be overlooked, which reveals a deeper layer of meaning behind the clothes we wear. Fashion in our culture, specifically what one wears, can be a powerful language that communicates identity, status, values and how we perceive the world around us. Clothes are not just clothes.

Clothes were not just clothes for Paul in his time either. The intentionality of getting dressed took on an added dimension. Paul utilizes the language of undressing and dressing in not just one, but four Pauline Epistles (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and our reading today from Colossians), which stressed the importance of dressing in Greco-Roman culture as a rite of passage, which reflected their emergence into becoming a mature adult. In an elaborate ceremony celebrated on the festival of Liber (March 17), young Greek and Roman men would ascend the steps of the Capitoline hill (if they lived in Rome) or enrollment office (other cities/towns) with their fathers and exchanged their childhood togas for new ones reflecting their emergence into adult life along with all the freedom, rights and responsibilities. With the Temple of Jupiter in view, the ‘new man’ would register his name into the list of citizens; an act symbolizing the registration and reception of a new person within the Roman state and the in the eyes of Jupiter. [1]

Paul reclaims the language of dressing and uses it to describe the new life we have in Jesus Christ through our baptism. While the Romans donned their togas symbolic of entering adult life, we are clothed with the grace of with Jesus Christ through the sacrament of baptism which is the new, outward sign. [2] It is in the baptismal waters where we share in Christ’s death and resurrection and ultimately are born into a new identity as God’s beloved children. We turn away from sin, abandon our old selves and are born into the newness of life that Christ gives. We are clothed with God’s grace and gifted with a new identity, not just as beloved children, but as a community of faith. In the presence of God, it is in the waters of baptism, where we exchange identities. The intentionality of getting dressed, signified a change in identity and behaviour – the abandonment of the old self and the adoption of a new identity. Paul’s language of dressing reminds us that clothes are not just clothes for us either.

Having put on the grace of Christ, Paul reminds us to live up to what is expected of us in our new clothes, our new identities in Christ, which can be difficult at times. We all have pattern of thinking/behaviour that we need to be aware of, depending on the situation. Paul reminds the Colossians of the major ones: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language. Those are just a few. One common one we all struggle with is being patient and waiting.

Waiting can bring out the worst in us. Waiting in line at the bank or restaurant can make us frustrated. Waiting at a red light in our car can make us competitive. Waiting for answers from a customer-service agent on the phone can make us angry. How about when we take a bit longer to get ready and are running late to a social function and our spouses express their frustration at our timeliness. Even when we seek change within the Church, progress can move as fast as molasses. When we have to wait, our worst behaviors can emerge often manifesting in harsh words and actions that are unwarranted and not reflective of our characters. Paul reminds us in Colossians that we should relinquish these patterns of behavior that do not reflect God’s grace and act holy for the sake of the new relationship we have in Christ. Paul speaks to us in those times to set “our minds on things above”, encouraging us to put on our best behavior and reflect the grace of God through the way we think and act towards others. We all know this is easier said than done, but this is what Paul is reminding us to do!

When Doris and I moved up to the northern part of Brampton years ago, I came across a box with my favorite top, which I thought I had lost in the moving process, the same shirt I am wearing today. Now this top is no ordinary top. It has defied all expectations – it is special. Gifted to me over 12 years ago by my grandmother, this shirt is by far my favorite. It is my go to shirt, the one that I feel the most comfortable in, the shirt that has kept me warm countless days, the shirt that has defied all the dirt and stains and accidents over the years. There is a closeness between this shirt and I. You can say we have a history together. I know that you have a special sweater or pant or even a blanket that is your favorite. The one that catches your eye first in the drawer or the one that you’ve even put in the laundry hamper, but are willing to wear it one more day, even though you know its dirty. We each have a favorite article of clothing, a garment that is special, one that we’ve created so many memories in, one that we all have a relationship and a history with, one that we would prefer to wear day to day. Maybe putting on God’s grace is like putting on our favorite clothing – clothing so special it stands out from all the rest. A garment that we feel comfortable in and activates our memories about people and places. A piece of clothing that we have a relationship with. An article of clothing that when we put it on, a change occurs within us.

I once heard in an audio recording by Richard Rohr, that St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order who took a vow of poverty, only allowed himself to possess one garment– a favorite blanket given to him by a fellow monk. He had it for many years. Apparently, it was patched in numerous places, and his fellow monks were trying to get him to discard it and get a new one, but he always refused. One of his final requests on his deathbed was that he would be covered and buried with this blanket. When asked why, he responded that his blanket reminded him of God’s grace and that it was God’s love that had mended/patched the holes within his soul.

When we find ourselves in situations when we are impatient, or angry and say or do things to those we care about, pause – remember the grace you are clothed with, for this is a prime opportunity for you to witness. Put aside those knee jerk, destructive, old patterns of behaviour. Instead, put on the grace of God, like that favorite shirt, or pant or sweater, or that special blanket that you have. Make compassion, kindness, humility, and patience your preferred attire. Above all, make it a daily practice of putting on the grace and peace that Christ has placed on your shoulders and that warms your hearts, for God’s attire is suitable dress for all of life’s occasions.

[1] David J. Williams, Paul’s Metaphors: Their Context and Character (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 94. [2] Ibid.

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