What exactly is our “Sunday best?” You know, whatever it is we put on to wear to church: our nice shoes, respectable slacks, dresses that are not too anything, button down shirts tucked in. I know a woman who continues to wear a hat to church because she’s half convinced that her long deceased grandmother will rise up from the dead and give her a scolding should she slide into her pew bareheaded. There are standards for church clothing, expectations that vary from congregation to congregation, but continue to matter nonetheless.
I first became aware of such standards as a sophomore in high school. I had always known that church involved dressing up and cleaning off, but my knee-high toe socks were the first things that didn’t make the cut for suitable churchwear. “Emfkin,” warned my Oma “You can’t go to church looking like a clown.” Apparently mismatched striped toe socks did not meet the standard for appropriate church attire. I might add that my Oma was clearly not on her local church’s worship committee when clown ministry was a thing in the 80s and 90s.
Or maybe I bumped up against the standard earlier, come to think of it. There had to be a reason I wasn’t allowed to wear my glorious hot pink flamingo hat on the day of my confirmation when I was in 8th grade. According to my mother the long velvety neck and fabulous fabric legs that dangled down past my shoulders were not church appropriate either. Strange, since the apostle Paul does have something to say about women needing to keep their heads covered; though he probably would have been just as appalled by the flamingo hat as my mother, Fred the Flamingo had that effect on people.
But while flamingos and excessively striped toe socks apparently don’t make the cut for church attire, it’s not as if the standards are always that clear. They are influenced by tradition, culture, and, let’s face it, even the climate. And yet there is a need to “put on our Sunday best,” whatever that best may be.
So what are we supposed to wear to church? What actually is our Sunday best? Other than his momentary fixation on hattedness, Paul is less concerned with putting on clothes and more concerned with putting on Christ and being clothed in the armor of God:
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17).
Great, our dependence on God and Christian virtue is more important than our Christian clothing, but last I checked you can still get charged with public nudity no matter how splendid your metaphorical armor of God may be.
We know, or try to know, that virtue, faith, and our trust in God’s love are more important than clothing, but even so, we’re still faced with a closet full of choices each Sunday. For comfort, decorum, and social acceptance, we still have to figure out our “Sunday Best.”
So perhaps, as we often do when we’re in a quandary be it philosophical or more mundane, let’s look to Jesus. Part of the whole incarnation, God-with-us thing is that Jesus wore clothes: robes, tunics, sandals, and of course, whatever the intimate apparel of the 1st century might have been. Yup, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ probably wore some kind of underwear. Or he didn’t, and now we have that to reckon with. Sorry. Maybe he even got sent back to his room by his mother Mary for not making good choices about his “Saturday Best” for synagogue. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have nothing to say on the subject.
Clothing, be it the swaddling cloths that kept him warm as a newborn, or the purple robe he wore as he was mocked and beaten before his death on the cross, was a part of Jesus’ life. Clothing covered the flesh that he took on out of love for us. He had to reckon with it too.
Jesus also has something to say about clothes, namely, that we shouldn’t worry about them so much. God who loves us and cares for us comes first, clothing second, third, or even later down the line. But even so, while clothing shouldn’t be a worry, it is nevertheless there and noticeable. See what Jesus has to say on the subject:
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these” (Matthew 6:28-29).
Don’t fret about clothes, says Jesus, but by golly, look how splendid the flowers are. Don’t worry, but splendor is a gift to be enjoyed, and don’t you forget it.
And that’s why I sometimes wear dinosaur leggings to church because what could possibly more splendid than that? That’s why at Christ the King, we have pajama Sunday right after Christmas, because what could be more splendid than a church full of people decked out in their Christmas pjs? Splendor, the way flowers bloom, leaves burn, and mismatched socks clash, is a wondrous gift from God. It is a gift we are richer for celebrating when we see it in our world and when it is wrapped around our bodies.
So don’t worry about your clothes: how much they cost, how good they look, how nicely they fit in. Don’t worry, but be like the flowers: carefree and splendid as Solomon in all his glory. Don’t worry, because as daunting as that Sunday morning closet may seem, God has already made all the hard choices and we are left to rejoice and be splendid together.
About the Blog
In this season of plague, flood, fire, hungry cats, and Advent, we invite you to reflect on the words (such clever words!) of the Prophet John in the book of Revelation.
Perhaps you have encountered the #Liturgisaur on Instagram or Facebook. He is a small, green, pants wearing, one armed dinosaur who makes the rounds in Gladwin County and beyond, highlighting the various ministries of Christ the King Lutheran Church.
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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
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Christ the King Lutheran Church
600 S. M 18
Gladwin, Mi. 48624
Pastor Emily Olsen