It is perhaps no accident that I have been thinking a lot about clothing in the last few days. Yesterday at Evening Prayer we had the wonderful occasion to clothe our brother Lain in the habit of the Society. Some of you were here for that, and others perhaps joined us remotely.
As I have said before, a clothing ceremony is probably the most dramatic of all the rites of passage that a Brother of the Society undergoes in his time in the community, except perhaps for the last rite of passage, his funeral. Unlike a profession, we actually see a man change, literally, before our very eyes.
Having put on, and taken off my own habit, thousands of times, over the last 30 years, it is this putting on of the habit for the first time, that I find so moving. It is especially moving watching him as he fumbles and searches the fabric for various hidden buttons, and snaps, and tries to wind and knot the cord with as much dignity as possible. Getting dressed, in a strange outfit, in public, with everyone watching, is actually much more difficult than you might think! In that moment, it is just an awkward and cumbersome suit of clothes. But the habit is much more than a suit of clothes. As we say in our Rule, [the habit] is dense with meaning, [and] a source of joy.
As many of you saw, at one point in the service another Brother gives the habit to the postulant saying let the habit remind you of the baptismal gift of your union with Christ. You have put him on; he clothes you with his own self.
In the midst of all the fumbling and searching, when it feels like you are all thumbs; when you are totally focused on trying to put this darn thing on; when everyone is watching, and you feel like a fool, something else, that is probably the farthest thing from your mind, is going on. You are putting on Christ. We have put on Christ in Baptism, our Rule teaches us, and the habit can remind us of our present union with him.
It is this language of clothing which the author of Colossians uses today. [You] have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new…. Immediately after the passage we read today, comes this:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Elsewhere we read, [as] many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
When we are fumbling and searching for unfamiliar snaps and buttons; when we are all thumbs, just trying to put this darn thing on; when everyone is watching, and you feel like a fool; when you are totally focused on getting dressed in public with as much dignity as possible, this is what is going on: you are putting on Christ.
To put on Christ, is to put on, not a suit of clothes, that can be taken off at the end of the day, or when they need to be laundered, but to put on a way, and a pattern of life. To put on Christ is to take off one way of life and put on another. It is to take off one set of clothes and put on a new.
[You] must get rid of … anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language…. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new….
Instead, we must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. [Bearing] with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
For the Christian, these are the clothes given to us in the waters of baptism. These are the clothes we are called to wear, not some of the time, but all the time. These are the clothes which sets us apart and makes us identifiable.
Just as a monk in his habit is obvious to everyone, so it should be obvious to everyone that someone has been clothed in Christ.
The other day, a friend of mine went to the doctor. He hadn’t seen this particular doctor before, so there were the usual forms to fill out. When it came to occupation, my friend put down administrator, which on the surface was true. As the doctor reviewed the form, he queried my friend about his occupation. Why do you ask? said my friend. It’s just that you look like a priest, replied the doctor.
I don’t know what a priest looks like, especially when they are not wearing any distinctive clothing, but that story has made me wonder. Do I look like a monk, even when I am not wearing my habit? Do you look like a Christian, even when you are not in Church? Can someone tell that you and I have put on Christ, as that doctor could tell my friend is a priest?
For those of us in the community, the habit is a sign of our common life and identity. At the same time it is a sign of something much more. It is a sign, not merely of adaptation, but of inner change and conversion of life.
My hope for Lain, indeed my hope for any of us, is not that we will be recognized as monks because we wear a habit, but because we have clothed ourselves in Christ, and are undergoing a process of inner change and conversion.
Clothing is about much more than fabric, especially when that clothing is Christ. It is about compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love.
I wonder, next time you meet someone you have never before met, will they ask if you are a Christian because somehow, they can see you are clothed with Christ?
So, clothe yourself with Christ, and wear your compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love, not merely in your heart, but on your life, so that someone, somewhere, someday, will ask you, are you a Christian?
Lectionary Year and Proper: Proper 13 C
Solemnity or Major Feast Day: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
 SSJE, Rule of Life, Outward Signs of our Common Life, Cowley Publications, Cambridge MA, 1997, chapter 15, page 30
 SSJE, The Clothing of a Novice
 Op. cit., page 30
 Colossians 3: 9 – 10
 Colossians 3: 12 – 15
 Galatians 3: 27
 Colossians 3: 8 – 10
 Colossians 3: 12 – 14
 Rule, page 30
 Clothing of a Novice
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