“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple, and scarlet stuff, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked.” Exodus 28:6
Let me begin by saying I don’t have to wear a suit to church any more. For nearly 35 years as a pastor I dressed in suits and ties to preach and lead worship services. I can’t say it was ever demanded of me, but I knew it was expected and would have caused a minor stir among some people who were ceaselessly looking for reasons to engage in or promote a minor stir. Not having to wear a suit and tie is today a minor benefit of no longer being a pastor.
I note here that among those benefits I number most highly is not feeling responsible for the temperature in the sanctuary or the condition of the plumbing in the lady’s restroom on Sunday morning. I get to sit beside Leslie in a worship service now, blithely unaware of all the minor physical-plant issues that will absolutely prevent a significant percentage of people from worshiping God the Creator of Heaven and Earth. My new calling has benefits.
But I still wear a suit to church, almost always, even though it’s not required or expected. This morning as I dressed I thought about the reasons why.
Without question I still retain a good measure of respect for “wearing your Sunday best.” I’m sure it’s part of the software installed early by my dedicated Baptist family. Men wore suits. Ladies nice dresses. Even white gloves. I often polished my shoes on Saturday night.
Wearing your Sunday best, or Sabbath best, is an old tradition, dating back to Old Testament times. The priests wore special garments for their activities in the tabernacle and later in the Temple. Aaron, the first high priest, wore an ephod that God personally designed. It was an apron of sorts with various accoutrements, very finely described by God and executed by skilled seamstresses.
They wore these clothes because they served in a holy place, on a holy day. The word “holy,” in both Hebrew and Greek, means something that is set apart. A holy thing is different, a reminder that God is different.
I don’t own an ephod, but my enduring commitment to suits and ties is a minor nod to my conviction that some places, days, and times are holy. These are all sacred to me, a word that denotes a way in which God especially dispenses His grace.
Look at it this way: If I were thirsty I would go to the places water was available. If I knew that taps were only turned on at certain times I would be there at those times. If I knew I had to bring a cup to get a drink, I would be sure to bring the cup. All of this I would do because I need the water.
Please read carefully. God doesn’t withhold grace from me if I don’t go to church on Sunday or if I wear a Grateful Dead tee-shirt when I do go. But isn’t it possible that God created in me, in all of us, a certain rhythm of grace that resonates especially when my mind, eyes, and ears are focused on Him? And that certain places, times, and things serve more effectively to sharpen that focus?
When I sit in a sanctuary I’m more likely to feel God’s presence. When I set aside a time to pray and meditate in the morning I’m more likely to be aware of God’s grace in my life. When I observe Advent or Lent or Holy Week I’m more likely to have a new insight into the theological meaning behind those events.
We live in an age that pushes sacred things further to the edge. My wearing a suit is a small effort to try to keep sacred things in the fabric of my life, if you will. It’s my way of saying this is a special day, I’m going to a special place, and I want to acknowledge both of those things in the details of my preparation and attendance.
Frankly, I remember times when people who dressed in their Sunday best looked askance at someone who dressed too casually. Funny thing today is that some people look askance at me when I dress up, as if I’m focusing on externals. As in all things, opinions can vary but judgment is prohibited.
I merely ask you to think about what is sacred in your life. You certainly do not have to wear a suit to church on Sunday. There should be no dress code! But how do you acknowledge your need for sacred places, times, and things? Space doesn’t permit me to review the growing science that has revealed a neurological basis for faith and belief, but trust me, every one of us has a spiritual neural network that responds to prayer, meditation, worship, and silence. Sacred places, things, and times are not only good for your soul, they’re good for your health. Literally.
Seek out the sacred. Create spaces in your life, daily, that are devoted to the sacred. Next Sunday I may well stand beside a young man in sandals, shorts, and an untucked Hawaiian shirt. I will almost certainly be wearing a dark pin-strip suit with a Windsor knot tie, and French Cut Toe Cap dress shoes. But we will each in our own way be saying that before we embark on a too-secular week, we need a sacred start.
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 4, 2018