Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Shoulderings, Part 3 of 3: The Garment

And then there is the garment, or robe. A strange thing to consider in regard to shouldering a burden, but please bear with me.

I should mention at the start that I haven't included St Paul's references to the wearing of armour, except incidentally in one quotation.  I'm considering the garment as the sign of conversion and faith, of the joy of repentance and forgiveness, of responsibility, and of glory.

Conversion and faith
Here is a stern warning in Matthew 22: 11-14: “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

There is a helpful footnote to this text in my Bible: “The wedding garment represents the dispositions necessary for admission to the kingdom”.

The joy of repentance and forgiveness
Here is the beautiful conclusion to the parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:21-24: “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

This is a mixture of Scripture and personal anecdote.  Here is St Paul to the Romans (13:11-14):
"... You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.  Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

The idea of putting on Christ, like a garment, is a vivid and indeed a physical image.  "Image" it may be, but St Paul seems to be urging it as a reality: that virtue - in its original meaning of strength and manliness - is a spiritual garment; that Christ Himself is our garment and our virtue.  That when we try to do good and avoid wrongdoing, it is a manifestation of that garment resting on our shoulders.

And now the personal anecdote.  I'm rather prone to daydreaming.  A bad habit in many ways, but occasionally it is more considered and it leads to some useful reflections.  This particular one, which was rather gloomy, ended with a heartfelt little prayer of that odd sort we make up ourselves, barely articulate:  "I'm just a bit of rubbish."  I'm making no claims for what came next, because it sounded suspiciously like my very own voice in my head:  "Yes, but you're My bit of rubbish; so put this robe on."  Well, the first idea made me laugh; but the second gave me quite a start.  Interestingly, it was this experience that prompted the reflections that led  to this series of posts on the various kinds of shoulderings.

But back to the robe or garment.  I can't back this up with any quotation, but it feels as though each person's garment is perfectly suited to that individual.  Also, that it is a working garment, laid on our shoulders for a purpose. Each of us is to be , in an important or obscure way, an envoy, an ambassador. 

By temperament I am nearer to the unconfident end of the scale. With that in mind, if it were only me doing this work of giving witness, it would be utterly daunting. But I now try to think of myself as wearing this robe, at moments when I would otherwise quail and retreat; and there is a dignity about the knowledge of it, and a kindliness, and these qualities are not mine, but the Lord’s, to Whom the garment really belongs. It is one of those surprising little joys of life to have become aware of this.

It was while I was mulling over this little series that I was reminded of another robe, in a much darker scene. Here it is, in John 19:2-6: “The soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and clothed Him in a purple robe; they came up to Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck Him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in Him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw Him they cried out, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ ” 

The soldiers used the robe to mock what they had been told about Jesus, and the crown of thorns both to mock and to torture Him. In the minds of the Jewish leaders it probably went too close for comfort, contributing to the frenzy of their rejection.  As for us, we see the Suffering King, His suffering inseparable from His kingship.  This is a dark glory.

In happy contrast, another Scriptural passage has been brought to my mind.  This one concerns a garment of unalloyed glory. It is from Revelation 19:7-8: “ ‘The marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”  If I'm to get my fine linen, it's definitely a work in progress ...

Finally ...
...  to tie everything in this series together, there is a phrase from the New Testament which occurred to me while I was writing these posts: “The weight of glory”. These words appear in St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (4:16-18), and they seem to link together the different kinds of shoulderings: the unseeing quality of our lives, like the lives of the oxen; the affliction of our personal crosses; and the glory the Lord intends for us.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Picture from, via Google Images

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