October 11, 2020

Clothe Yourselves with Righteousness

The Rev. Armando Ghinaglia
The Episcopal Church at Yale
Clothe Yourselves with Righteousness
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
Our gospel reading today revolves around this extravagant wedding banquet, what the prophet Isaiah might call a “feast of rich food” and “well-aged wines.”
But I want to note something that sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of all this happy, positive vision of feasting. In the past two years, before COVID, my wife Abbie and I went to fourteen weddings. Fourteen. And in not a single one did we see the host come by and tell the attendants to bind a wedding crasher “hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (That’s not to say the host may not have felt that way. It’s just to say that we haven’t seen it happen. Yet.)
There’s a strange thing going on in our gospel reading today, and as is usually the case with difficult passages, it’s worth dwelling on. What’s the big deal? Why does this wedding robe matter so much? What’s this have to do with us?
Let’s start with the robe. What should we think of when we hear of the wed-ding robe? We’re off the mark if we’re thinking a literal robe of some variety; Jesus isn’t too keen on sartorial matters elsewhere in the gospels. But the Scriptures do mention robes in other ways. We hear of Joseph, the son of Ja-cob, whose beautiful robe is dipped in the blood of a goat,i and of Judah, who “washes his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes.”ii We hear of the priests with their sacred vestmentsiii and of chosen men and women whom kings honor with special robes.iv We hear of Isaiah, who proclaims, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”v We hear, of course, of Jesus himself from the proph-ets and the gospel writers, Christ, who “comes from Edom, from Bozrah in garments stained crimson,”vi who wears the “crown of thorns and the purple robe.”vii And we hear in Revelation of the saints, who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”viii In other words, this robe that our friend lacks isn’t just any old robe. As Scripture puts it, it’s the “robe of righteousness that comes from God.”ix
What is it, then, that this robe of righteousness consists of? Strangely, that robe of righteousness doesn’t come from the mere fact of being at the feast or being invited to the feast. Remember, the king has instructed his slaves to “in-vite everyone you find to the wedding banquet,” and the slaves, true to his command, “gathered all whom they found, both good and bad.” And maybe shockingly, that robe of righteousness doesn’t even come from partaking of the same food and drink as everyone else once you’re there. There’s a reason why Saint Paul talks about the danger of eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, of eating and drinking judgment against ourselves.x If the sacraments aren’t the robe of righteousness, then what is? Our friend was invited and came, and ate and drank—but what should he have done differently?
He should have clothed himself. With what? With what the Scriptures com-mend. “With the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”xi “With compassion, kindness, humility, meek-ness, and patience.”xii “With love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”xiii He should have “put away [his] former way of life, [his] old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,” and should have been “renewed in the spirit of [his] mind.”xiv He should have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and ma[d]e no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”xv He should have had faith that God would supply the grace to do these things.
Better it would have been, writes Cyril of Jerusalem, for the wedding crasher to make “a timely exit” as “the prelude to a timely return.”xvi It would have been better for him to have left as soon as he realized he was not prepared to share in the feast and to have returned after he confessed his sins and was reconciled with God and with his neighbor. And that’s every bit as true for us.
Friends, God has invited us to a banquet, to the marriage supper of the Lamb. That invitation isn’t an invitation to a social club or an eating club, still less to a secret society. It’s an invitation to put on the Lord Jesus Christ in all that we do, with all that we are, and to repent when we’ve fallen short. It’s an invita-tion to prepare ourselves to encounter God, whether in our death or in Christ’s coming. If we’ve neglected our wedding robe—if we’ve left off the re-newal of our hearts and minds for some other time—better to leave aside our old ways now, to return to God by confession and repentance, and to come back clothed with righteousness. So let us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Let us trust that the God who makes all things new can make us new also. And when the time does come and we see God face to face, may he find us ready and joyful. May God open our lips to proclaim with the saints what we read in the prophet Isaiah, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
i Gen. 37:31.
ii Gen. 49:11.
iii Ex. 28:4, 28:31, 28:34, 29:5.
iv Esth. 6:9; Ps. 45:14.
v Is. 61:10.
vi Is. 63:1–3.
vii Jn. 19:5.
viii Rev. 7:14.
ix Bar. 5:2.
x 1 Cor. 11:27–32.
xi Eph. 4:24.
xii Col. 3:12.
xiii Col. 3:14.
xiv Eph. 4:22–23.
xv Rom. 13:14.
xvi Cyril of Jerusalem, THE WORKS OF SAINT CYRIL OF JERUSALEM, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari, trans. Leo P. McCauley and Anthony A. Stephenson, vol. 61, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1969), 71–73.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.