I wonder how much thought you gave to what you would wear this morning. Clothes have an extraordinary power to communicate and can be used to demonstrate wealth and power, or to reveal poverty, for instance. They can also convey changes in identity or role. It was a peculiar part of the liturgy on Sunday evening when I was welcomed to this Cathedral as a Residentiary Canon and I was clothed in a cope by Nicholas –it was a powerful metaphor signalling a rite of passage, a change in role and identity. I was now part of the team, wearing the same special clothing.
In the letter to the Galatians, St Paul writes about being clothed with Christ- and this is a powerful idea. What does it mean to be clothed with Christ? What would Christ’s clothing look like and what would it say about us? Church ministers wear clothes that tend to denote Christ’s kingship, but how often do we wear vestments that denote his poverty and vulnerability, his lack of power?
St Francis of Assisi famously took off all his fine clothes, stripping himself naked in a dramatic way, to demonstrate a complete transformation in his life. It symbolised his rejection of the power, prestige and privilege of his old life, from then on, he wore the poor clothes of a begging friar and put all his trust in Jesus.
When we become a Christian, marked as it is by the sacrament of baptism, clothing is used to demonstrate a change in identity. During the baptism liturgy the candidate is clothed in a white shawl and Galatians is referenced in the words which are said: ‘You have been clothed with Christ. As many as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.’
Being clothed with Christ suggests that we should become like him, modelling humility, service, compassion, love. But it means more than that.
For Paul, the liberation that comes with putting on Christ, transforms and radicalises his understanding of everything he had ever known. For he was once a man who thought he could only be good enough if he did everything right and followed the law. The God he believed in was a disciplinarian and lacking in mercy; Paul’s character inevitably reflected the God he believed in. But through Christ, Paul finds a God in whom he could put all his faith (or trust).
Being clothed in Christ therefore means being found acceptable in God’s sight- justified. And because this grace comes through Christ and is not earned, there can be no inequality between people: there is no Greek and Jew, male and female, slave or free. In wearing Jesus’ clothing, we reject the hierarchies and prejudices through which and by which human beings seek to control and belittle others.
We could add our own categories, we might say: there is no adult and child, rich and poor, straight and gay, black or white, able bodied and differently abled, left wing or right wing, protestant or catholic, the list could go on and on….……
But whilst this message rightly challenges us, most importantly it should be received as good news, for in Christ we are given the freedom and the grace to be fully ourselves, without judgment and condemnation. In putting on Christ, in wearing his clothes, we are enabled to be who God has made us to be. And in an age where mental ill health is so prolific, to hear that our identity is rooted and grounded in Christ, should enable us to start letting go of our fears. For this is the good news that helps us resist the many self- condemnations, the voices of criticism and judgement in our heads.
And this is where the Church has good news to share with people – transformative and hopeful good news – that the ‘you’ that has been crafted by the hand of God; the ‘you’ that has been given form and life in the world, is the ‘you’ that God loves and longs to bless and set free. So, the invitation for all of us today is to re-dress ourselves in the clothes of Christ and know ourselves transformed.