The popular miniseries “Maid” currently airing on Netflix tells the story of single mother Alex who turns to housecleaning to make ends meet as she escapes an abusive relationship to create a better life for herself and her three year old daughter Maddy. In one powerful scene, Alex arrives at a women’s shelter with only the clothes on her back, the shoes on her feet and her daughter in her arms. The head of the shelter, being all too familiar with women arriving in similar circumstances, takes Alex to an in house clothing “boutique” chocked full of garments of every style and size. While browsing through the racks, the shopkeeper who stands at a cash register where no money ever changes hands asks her about her clothing style and favourite colours. Alex is dumbfounded. The abuse she has experienced has so thoroughly diminished her sense of self that she no longer remembers what her favourite colour is or what kinds of clothes she likes to wear.
Clothing exchanges where men who have been living on the streets can acquire a suit or a clean set of clothes to go to a job interview; the grad dresses, jackets and ties that Alexis sets aside in the Thrift Shop for those who cannot afford to purchase them new; the non-gendered signs in our Shop indicating that anyone who wants to can try on a dress regardless of their gender expression or identity, all speak to the truth that although as the old saying goes, the clothes don’t make the man, what we wear on the outside actually does say a lot about how we feel and how we identify ourselves on the inside.
Today’s scripture reading from the prophet Baruch contains some beautiful images about the importance of how we are dressed. “Take off your mourning clothes and oppression, Jerusalem! Dress yourself in the dignity of God’s glory. Wrap the justice that comes from God around you like a robe and place upon your head like a crown of glory.”
Yet again, the original context of these words come from that time in the history of Israel when the city of Jerusalem had been taken over by the Babylonians, it’s leaders and many of it’s citizens shipped off into exile, it’s people oppressed and devastated by the dismantling of their lives. The prophet Baruch addresses a people who for a long, long, time have been mourning the freedoms they have lost, their sense of security as well as their sense of self.
Into this reality he signals to them that it is time for them to take off their old clothes of grief, oppression and despair to get dressed for a new day, a day of dignity, justice and peace.
A friend of mine once told me about a gathering she went to at which this scripture passage was read. In order to really embrace it’s message they sat in a circle and made crowns of glory for themselves out of paper, encrusting them with glitter and festooning them with costume jewels. Then they placed their crowns on their heads and walked around the room to embody what it was like to be dressed in a crown of glory.
I remember asking her what that felt like and she said at first it felt quite grand. Everyone was standing up tall and waving to one another like they really mattered and then she said we fell into fits of laughter at the silliness of it all. Even though at first we felt dignified she said it was as if that dignity was all just make believe. It was as if it wasn’t real, as if it isn’t true that we are all of noble birth.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that my friend and her companions felt like imposters wearing those noble crowns because so many of our life experiences teach us not to think too highly of ourselves. No one likes someone who prances around clothed in arrogance day and night. Many of our life experiences have led us to believe we are not worthy of the finery of kings and queens.
What if it is actually true that each one of us has a crown of glory made in just the right size and just the right colours for each of us? What if that crown is waiting for us to reach out, take it by the hands and place it on our heads? What would it be like for us to imagine or perhaps to remember that the first clothes that were ever laid out for us to wear, the clothes in which we came swaddled at our birth, were clothes of dignity, robes of justice, shrouds of peace? What if this is the regalia each of us is meant to wear?
If we were to do that, if we were to try these clothes on for size, I wonder if we would realize that not only is there a rightful place for each of us as a royal table, there is a rightful place for everyone.
When I first moved to British Columbia thirty years ago now to become a student at the Vancouver School of Theology I was invited to the home of one of the faculty members for Thanksgiving dinner. At the table were a couple other students from out of town who had no family in the area, and most notably there were a couple other folks who had no place to go.
I was invited back to that table several times over my years as a student and then again when Brenda and I eventually moved into the neighbourhood. Jim and Anne McCullum had an eye for people on the margins. There were regularly people at their table who would not have found welcome at many other tables. Anne used to keep great long lists of what every guest who had ever sat at her table liked to eat. We learned not to heap false praise upon the casseroles we didn’t really like lest they show up in front of us in perpetuity. It was her way of clothing her guests in dignity, raising up each seat at the table to be a place of honour. And
there was always room for one more person to fit around that table. Because no matter how small a table may actually be, we can always find ways to make room for those who are loved.
In the prophet Baruch’s vision of the people of Jerusalem with their tattered robes of oppression and loss long past need of repair, he calls them to stand on a high place and look around to the east to see their children gathered from the west to the east by the holy one’s word as they rejoice that God has remembered them. It’s not a vision of something that is going to happen tomorrow. It’s not even a vision of something that is going to happen in this generation, but the suggestion is that it’s a vision that is on the horizon and the way to arrive at that day when all will be given the peace that comes from justice and the honour that comes from reverence for what is sacred, is by changing the way we dress, by changing the way we understand ourselves and treat ourselves and by changing the way we understand and treat one another. It’s what really matters in the words of the apostle Paul.
When we all sit around the same table we have eyes to see who has enough and who needs more. When we understand ourselves as clothed in dignity, peace and justice, each of us adorned with a crown of glory we have eyes to see each other robed in the same garments of our noble birth. When we see ourselves in those noble garments, we become more and more like the king whose birth we gather to celebrate in this season, not a king born in a lofty castle, a king born in a stable where there is room for each and every one of us to gather and take our rightful place.