Well on my way to condemnation

Didn’t Jesus mention long robes?
Photo Courtesy The Rev. Joseph Mathews

Teaching in the temple, Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

This is not the best Sunday to be a preacher; especially in a liturgical church.  As we do every Sunday, we’ll put on our finery, we’ll wear symbols that mark us as ontologically different, we’ll say long prayers, and take the seat of honor in the sanctuary and then we’ll stand up and read the opening sentences of Sunday’s lesson from Mark’s Gospel.  I’ve written elsewhere (using the same photograph, in fact) about the use of vestments in the Church, so I won’t rehash that here.

What I will offer today is a thought on the issue.  First, to those clergy persons who read this blog: As a member of the clergy, do you know why you wear what you wear on Sunday morning?  If you do, and it is something more than blind superstition or “the way things have always been,” then thanks be to God.  If you don’t, well then how do you plan to read this to your congregation on Sunday?  A follow-up question would be, “have you taught you congregations why we – bishops, priests, deacons, lay ministers, choir members, etc. – wear what we wear on Sunday morning?  If not, do you plan on just reading and ignoring this portion of Sunday’s text?  Now, to the laity who read this blog: Do you have a clue what the signs, symbols, and vestments that adorn your worship space mean?  If not, why don’t you ask?  It’d be a good exercise for the whole parish.

Now… where is my guide to church vestments… somebody’s gonna ask.

7 thoughts on “Well on my way to condemnation

  1. Having read both Hovda’s “The Vesting of Liturgical Ministers” and the section on vestments in Malloy’s _Celebrating the Eucharist_, yes, I know quite well why I wear what I wear. In the long-run (as a whole package to forming a community to plan its worship collectively), I will share both of those resources with congregations, too.

    One T in my last name.

  2. Steve, I think the key to this passage are the words “like to”. Christ speaking against affectation and pretense perhaps? I view the clerical robes as speaking to the transcendence of God in worship – I don’t know too many of our local Episcopal priests who pray those long prayers in public just to sound holy. But, I agree with you that those things that adorn our worship space and/or liturgy (including acts of personal devotion) need to be understood for what they represent. I believe that this enlarges us and brings us together.

  3. Ah, ‘to be like little children’ does not require an ‘understanding’ of anything (once again the intellect may get in the way), but simply an experience of the presence and power of God or perhaps, ‘the transcendence of God in worship’ which might be enabled/empowered by the long robes, etc or not.

  4. Lots of “good” reasons we wear what we do,but mostly they are practical. All the ministers up front wear special vestments so that we aren’t focused on the differences in clothing between rich and poor folk who come to the altar. We also used to have shoes for acolytes since some couldn’t afford black shoes (now we don’t care). The other practical reason is they are fun and look nice (and if they don’t look nice, we shouldn’t be wearing them).

  5. While I was going to focus on the widow’s gift… All gave some, she gave all; this is a wrinkle that I will address. Presbyterians love their academic robes and I believe I know why we wear them. As for me? I can do without it as I did for 21 years in the Air Force Chaplaincy. I believe it is so that we don’t call particular attention to ourselves but rather are robed alike. But then there are those mystifying Doctorate stripes on the sleeve that I will never earn (not particularly interested in that course and have seen too many in and out of uniform who preen like the Scribes and Pharisees for my own liking).

    It really all should come down to a humble servant of Christ in the pulpit or at the Table (or Altar in your case)… I’m just a fool trying to follow Christ, and even that statement can become a prideful one if I don’t watch it 😉

    A new follower of your blog. Thanks for writing and sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s