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:
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:
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.