Monday, October 29, 2012

Imputed Vestments

Vocation and clothing goes hand in hand, or better still, hand in glove. Painters and spotted pants that look like a Jackson Pollock painting. Movie theater shirts with artificial butter flavoring stains. Coveralls coated in dirt, manure, leaves and grass clippings. Doctors and white coats. Nurses and scrubs. Police officers and the badge. Soldiers and their uniform. Astronauts and their helmets. Pilots and their wings. Pastors and their vestments and black shirts. And with few exceptions (such as public evangelism on college campuses), I always wear the clerical. That's right, I'm the man in black. Whatever your vocation is or whatever uniform you have, you can always tell a lot about a person's vocation by what they wear. 

Every vocation is adorned with some kind of clothing, like a spectrum of colorful feathers. Even in our sin - which brought on the guilt and shame of sin, along with the need for clothing, God dresses his creation in greater array than Solomon in his finest. For if he has clothed the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, will he not also provide for us? Indeed, he does. Even as we are masks of God he masks our guilt and shame by taking that onto himself.

Vocation is as vocation wears. The pastor's vestments aren't just an afterthought or nice decorations. We don't wear them because we think they're pretty (although aesthetic taste is important). We don't wear them because they're always comfortable - most of the time it's hot and stuffy (at least for this son of the Great NW).  We don't wear them to feel better about ourselves. In fact it has nothing to do with ourselves at all (even though we occasionally get free parking because of the cloth).  Christ must increase and I must decrease. Which is why the Lutherans didn't abandon them during the Reformation either.

At the outset, we must again make this preliminary statement: we do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it. Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals. The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved. And the usual public ceremonies are observed, the series of lessons, of prayers, vestments, and other such things. (Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Paul Timothy McCain. St. Louis, MO : Concordia Publishing House, 2005, S. 220)

Although we use them freely - vestments are not commanded as they were in the OT although there is a great deal of typological parallel - there are manifold reasons why churches and pastors can and should continue the use of vestments. Vestments hide the man in the Office, not draw attention to him or his cool new Hawaiian shirt or snazzy suit; undercover pastors . Even brilliant and beautifully crafted vestments don't call attention to themselves but (should draw their attention) rather to Christ and his saving work. Vestments adorn and signify the Office of the Holy Ministry. Vestments teach us. But above all, vestments point us to Christ's imputed righteousness won for us by his vicarious death on the cross. This is what  Dr. Rod Rosenbladt reminded me about yesterday here at Redeemer as he preached an outstanding Reformation Day sermon.

"That's why I'm wearing this cassock and surplice," he said. "When I got to this district, the people didn't know enough about Christ's imputed righteousness. So, we wear the black to remind us of our sin and the white to that we're covered in Christ's righteousness, which is not our own; it is a gift of the highest order."

Imputed righteous. Declared righteous. Reckoned righteous. The justification of the sinner before God. Imputed means you didn't earn it, deserve it or merit it - not a single bit according to Paul in Romans 1-3. No one is righteous. Apart from Christ we join Adam and Eve in their walk of shame: "Their eyes were open and they realized they were naked." Scripture screams declares time and time again to our old sinful nature: the emperor has no clothes!"

But in Christ you get a whole new wardrobe. New threads from the new creation. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. We are covered in the wedding garments. We are clothed in Christ. Covered with his righteousness. Imputed. Christ lived the life you couldn't and died the death you couldn't all to dress you in his glorious robes of imputed righteousness.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29

Adam and Eve were clothed with a sacrifice. A righteous substitute. An innocent for the guilty. A death in their place. Animal skins to cover their guilt and shame, sin and death. A bloody type of the sacrifice to come. You are clothed with a sacrifice, the sacrifice: Jesus' death on the cross. He is your righteous substitute. The innocent for the guilty. Jesus' skin covers ours. He takes all of our sin and death and ungodliness and gives us his righteousness, life and holiness in exchange. Jesus hangs naked on the cross to clothe us with his imputed righteousness, blessed imputed vestments purchased with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.

These are the imputed vestments of your Baptism. Baptism which buries you with Christ Crucified and raises you in his resurrection; He also clothes you with his death. You are clothed in Christ. And that is the greatest vocation and the greatest clothing line of all. Covered in the blood of Jesus. Covered in the death of Jesus. Covered in the water and the blood by the Spirit. And these three agree. 

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 
(Isaiah 61:10)

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