Put on the garment of Christ
May 6, 2021
What follows, my beloved, is obvious; that we should approach [the Easter] feast, not with filthy raiment, but having clothed our minds with pure garments. For we need in this to put on our Lord Jesus, that we may be able to celebrate the feast with Him. Now we are clothed with Him when we love virtue, and are enemies to wickedness, when we exercise ourselves in temperance and mortify lasciviousness, when we love righteousness before iniquity, when we honor sufficiency, and have strength of mind, when we do not forget the poor, but open our doors to all [people], when we assist humble-mindedness, but hate pride.
Athanasius, Festal Letter IV.3, ca. 332
Athanasius wrote an extraordinary series of letters in which he announced the date of that year’s Easter celebration. These days, websites tell us. If you’re brave, you can consult the fine print in the back of a Book of Common Prayer to get the dates for various years. But back in the day, astronomers and such would consult bishops, and then a letter would go out so that people would know the correct date for Easter.
Fortunately, Athanasius did not confine himself to announcing dates. He took up all sorts of topics in his annual letters. In the year 332, he gave some advice about the state in which Christians must find themselves in order to celebrate properly the Easter feast.
It isn’t enough, Athanasius says, for us to say we are cloaked in Christ. We will know we are truly cloaked in Christ when our lives show forth what we profess. We must love virtue and righteousness and remember the poor, among other things.
I wonder what Athanasius would make of us these days? Would see us as clothed in our Lord Jesus? I worry that it’s seductively easy to make ourselves complicity in exploitational systems these days. Though I know plenty about what goes into mining the minerals to make smartphones, I’m chief among those who line up for shiny new iPhones when they come out. That’s not exactly cloaking myself in Christ.
My point is not that we should beat ourselves up. Far from it! But I wonder what it would mean for us to conform our lives – every decision, every day – to the pattern of discipleship to which Jesus calls us. We can’t possibly achieve that lofty goal, but we could orient our lives in that direction. In other words, we don’t really get to “turn on” our faith when it’s time for church and then “turn off” our faith when it’s time to go to work or do our shopping. We are always Christians. Do our lives look like we are wearing the garment of the Risen Lord?
I remember a meeting I was in years ago. The question came up about an illegal business practice. One person said we needed to look at it with “business ethics” because it was a “business decision.” My boss at the time said, “no, there is no such thing as ‘business ethics.’ There is just ‘ethics.’ Let’s do the right thing.” I know he is a believer, and I think that day he had gone to work wearing the garment of Christ.
Photo of the central dome of Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem by Scott Gunn via Flickr.