I’ve been thinking about the symbolism of clerical robes, such as this one I’m wearing this morning. The founders of Protestantism replaced showy liturgical vestments with this rather boring scholar’s robe because they wanted the focus to be on the teaching of the Word – not on what they saw as vanity and spectacle. They wanted their congregants to focus on the internals, not the externals, of our faith.
This emphasis on what is being preached vs who is doing the preaching (or what they looked like) is rooted in the early Church’s determination to not make an idol of the person of Christ. This is why we do not know what Jesus the human being looked like. Every image we have of him was created long after all who actually knew him were gone.
John makes this same point. He tells us Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Everyone in that room believed because they saw Jesus alive again, in person. But Jesus is warning them that his physical presence is actually an impediment to their ministry.
He said those who came after them would believe without seeing, and would be blessed. Jesus’ words, and the gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive through Him, are what matters – not his physical form.
This morning I’m also reflecting on John’s beautiful summation of Jesus’ entire ministry: “Peace be with you all.” …I also see it as the shortest complete sermon in the Christian Scriptures, so perhaps I should just stop right here.
I can understand a church’s desire to protect its’ people. We’ve seen far too many massacres at churches (or anywhere, for that matter). But, despite that reality, threatening more violence in reaction to violence doesn’t even remotely approach having anything to do with the teachings of the faith.
When relating the story of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemene, Matthew 26:52 tells us that when a disciple sought to defend Jesus from those arresting him:
…Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
This week, 96 years ago, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the conflict known as WWI ended when the Armistice went into effect – an event we now celebrate as “Veterans Day”.
I probably would not be writing this today if it weren’t for that Armistice.
My Grandfather was a soldier in France, a corporal, in the fall of 1918. Although he’d been in the military for some time (at first ill for several months with what may have been the infamous “Spanish Flu”, then in an artillery unit), his first taste of face to face combat with the enemy was set for a couple of days after that symbolic day that ended the war. He and a team of soldiers were to attack a German fortification (which he termed a “castle”) with the goal of diverting attention from the main attack elsewhere. In military terms, “divert” means “get shot at,” which is why he and his fellows called these teams “Suicide Squads.” The survival rate was typically under 5% – if they were doing their jobs right (and my grandfather never did anything “halfway” in his entire life).
He and his fellow soldiers in that squad survived only because the diplomats agreed to end the war at that symbolic time, and did not drag out negotiations for a couple of more days. If they’d delayed for only a day or two, I might never have existed.