Putting on Christ – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Ezekiel 33: 7 – 11
Psalm 119: 33 – 40,
Romans 13: 8 – 14
Matthew 18: 15 – 20

Our confessor was here yesterday, to hear the confessions of the Brothers. I was at Emery House for the day and so I missed the opportunity to make my confession, so I’ll confess to you …… I’ve never really been terribly interested in clothes. (You thought you were going to get something juicy, didn’t you?) It was my older brothers, Charlie and Chris who were the clothes horses in my family. In fact, in high school both of them got jobs in a men’s clothing store, and for a while after high school, my brother Chris was the manager of the store. My family recognized that I wasn’t all that interested in clothes. On one occasion Brother Jonathan and I happened to be in Toronto at the same time as my parents. The four of us arranged to meet somewhere for dinner one evening. When we got to the restaurant my Dad took one look at Jonathan and one look at me, and turned to my Mum and said I told you that we could at least count on Jonathan to be properly dressed! As I said, I’m not terribly interested in clothes. I hate shopping for clothes and usually buy the first thing that I think will fit.

It’s probably a good thing that I am a monk then. I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to wear on any given day. Even before I went to bed last night, I knew what I would wear today, and I know what I’ll be wearing five years from now. I bet you can’t say that!

But even though I am not interested in clothes, and obviously my lack of interest shows, at least to some people, clothes are important for all sorts of reasons. Clothing, at least some clothing, is about modesty. Adam and Eve in the Garden knew that. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’[1]

Clothing also, at least in this climate, keeps us warm. Who wants to go outside in February without being appropriately bundled up in hats, gloves, scarves, mitts, coats, boots, long underwear and all the rest?

Clothing can also keep you safe. During hunting season the woods all over New England are full of people in bright orange jackets, as a way to advertise their presence to other hunters.

But clothes also have meaning. They say something about us: where you are from; what sports team you support; your income; your religion; what school you attend; your gender or your gender identity; even, as in my case, whether you are interested in clothes or not! So even though I say I don’t care about clothes, what I choose to wear says a great deal about me. This is a true for those days I put on khakis and shirt and sweater or my habit.

We say in our Rule of Life that from the day of our clothing [as a novice] to the day of our burial, the habit acts as a powerful sign of our common life and identity that we should cherish. It manifests not only our membership in this Society but our solidarity with men and women following the monastic way the world over. It expresses a precious continuity linking us through the centuries to the beginning of the monastic movement in the Church of Christ.[2]

But while clothes say something about us on the outside, they also say something about what is going on inside. Sometimes I put something on, not because it keeps me warm, but because it makes me feel good. As a child I had a red sweater that I loved. In fact, I had two of them! Being the younger brother of brothers who were twins, I often inherited hand me downs as they grew out of them, and I grew into them. Sometimes I inherited two of everything! And so I had two red sweaters that I loved, and they made me feel good. Clothes have meaning. They can tell the world if we are happy or sad, if we mean business or just want to relax, if we feel good about ourselves and want to stand out, or simply blend in.

We go on to say in our Rule about the habit that this clothing, dense with meaning, is a source of joy. We have put on Christ in Baptism and the habit can remind us of our present union with him. The triple-cord round our waists is an ancient sign of readiness that can summon us to be prepared to meet Christ whenever he should come. The knots tied in the cord at profession are signs to the hand and eye of the vows we have made to abide faithfully until he comes.[3]

With all this in mind, it is no wonder that Paul says what he does today: put on the Lord Jesus Christ.[4] He speaks of the Lord Jesus, as one might speak of a sweater. But Paul isn’t speaking here of fashion or warmth, he is speaking of identity. While clothes can keep us warm, they also identify us. They tell the world who we are and to whom we belong, and so Paul says elsewhere you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self.[5] He goes on to say: as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.[6]  In fact Paul speaks a great deal about clothing. Elsewhere Paul tells us to put on the armour of light; [7]to put on imperishability; [8] to put on the whole armour of God;[9] to put on the breastplate of righteousness;[10] to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and a helmet of the hope of salvation.[11]

For Paul, what we wear is crucial and in fact the language and ritual of clothing permeates our life as Christians. Here at the monastery, it is our custom, when infants are baptized, to literally strip them down to their diapers, or less and fully immerse them in the baptismal waters, after which they are presented with a new set of clothes, reminding everyone that in baptism we have been stripped of the old order of sin and death and have put on Christ.

It is not that we have put on Christ, like I put on my favourite red sweater, to make us feel good. We put on the Lord Jesus Christ to show the world who and whose we are, for in baptism as we put on Christ, we put on a life of faithfulness, repentance, proclamation, service, justice and the care of creation. Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?[12] I will, I will, I will, with God’s help. With each I will we put on another article of clothing which marks us as Christ’s, until at last we are sealed and signed with the sign of the cross and marked as Christ’s own for ever.[13]

I may not care about what I wear on my body, but we should all care about what we wear on our hearts. And what we wear on our hearts should be just as obvious to the world as what we wear on our bodies. Our T shirts may say Harvard, but our hearts should say Jesus. Our jeans may say Levis, but our hearts should say Jesus. Our clothing may say something about us, but so should our hearts, and that something should be the Lord Jesus Christ for in baptism we have all put on Christ and like any new set of clothes we should wear our baptismal clothing with pride, with dignity and with integrity.

[1] Genesis 3: 7 – 10

[2] SSJE, Rule of Life, Outward Signs of Our Common Life, chapter 15, page 30

[3] Ibid., page 30

[4] Romans 13: 14

[5] Colossians 3: 9 – 10

[6] Colossians 3: 12

[7] Romans 13: 12

[8] 1 Corinthians 15: 53

[9] Ephesians 6: 11

[10] Ephesians 6: 14

[11] 1 Thessalonians 5: 8

[12] BCP 1979, page 304 and 305. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada recently added the promise related to the care of creation.

[13] Ibid, page 308

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  1. JOYCE WILLIAMS on August 22, 2023 at 09:33

    Pray that we “put on Christ” and never take Him off…and, if we do, we can look for Him again, find Him, and put Him back on. Then we will be dressed in dirt (sin) proof clothes, white stain free clothes (dressed in the robe of righteousness). I love this meditation by Brother James. May God bless him and the work that he and the Brothers, do.

  2. marta engdahl on August 20, 2019 at 13:55

    How deep, and wide, and high and broad. To put on the armor of Christ. What a privilege to start each day! Reminds me of the night-time prayers of my grand-daughter this weekend. “Angels bless me while I sleep. . . .” Thank you.

  3. rev. carol carlson on August 20, 2019 at 10:30

    As an almost supernaturally-incompetent clothes-horse myself (who also had a mother who never failed to comment on this fact) I’m with you all the way, Br. James. I also much appreciate Elizabeth’s old priest who used his ‘slave collar’ as a sign that he really was somebody’s slave. Though I too (inconsistently enough) wear mine only on ‘business’ and airplanes (I want to die in it), I try to encourage my parishioners to live out the idea that any one of them might be able to approach a disaster of some kind and say ‘I’m a Jesus-follower (now that ‘Christian’ has gained such an unsavory inflection) – can I help?’ and it would have the same weight in the situation as my own saying, ‘I’m a priest – can I help?’ Our hearts’ ‘clothing’ can be quite visible sometimes…..

  4. Elizabeth Hardy on August 20, 2019 at 09:43

    An old priest once told me he deplored the trend amongst younger clergy to wear “street clothes”. He said he wore his collar all of the time so that in every situation no matter where he went or what he did people would know that there was a servant of Jesus Christ with them that they could turn to if they were in need. I’ve always remembered that conversation, and although I only wear my collar on “official business” it is amazing the conversations that open up when I am running into a shop or running an errand. Clothes can also be shorthand for who we are to allow folks to instantly access something at the moment they need it….and sometimes when they don’t know they do. Thank you, I really liked the simplicity and the straightforwardness of this message Br. James. Elizabeth Hardy+

  5. Roderic Brawn on August 20, 2019 at 07:13

    Today is my wife’s birthday. She likes to wear things that make her look nice. That is to say she wears things to express her joy in being alive. She is a very loving person. She does her best to serve faithfully everyone around her. So it is appropriate that her clothing expresses her joy and that her clothing lets to be known the kindness she exudes.

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