What's Up with the Weird Clothes?

Rev. Michael Keith

This past Sunday I led the Divine Service at the parish I serve for the first time in two weeks as I had been away on vacation the two Sundays prior. On those vacation Sundays I got to wear "normal" clothes and sit with my family in the pew of the church we visited. It was a nice change for me to sit in the pew.

The Sunday I returned to my parish was different. I wasn't wearing "normal" clothes. I was wearing my clerical collar and few minutes before the service I was putting on my vestments: my alb and my stole. Now these are certainly not "normal" clothes. Have you ever wondered your pastor wears these weird clothes when he is leading Divine Service?

It's not about him.

The Divine Service is not about the pastor. He's not the center of attention—or at least he shouldn't be. You're not there to see the pastor. You're there to see Jesus. It's all about Jesus and His gifts for you in Word and Sacrament. The pastor is the delivery man. Jesus has called and ordained him to deliver to you the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. But he's not the important thing here. Jesus and His gifts are.

So we cover up the man. That's why the historic Church throughout the ages has had her pastors wear vestments. Vestments have changed, and some pastors today wear different vestments than others, but that the pastor wear some garments that identify him as one set apart, as one ordained to carry out the duties of delivering the gifts to God's people, has been observed since Old Testament times.

Think of it this way: If a police officer pulls you over for speeding there are several things that will identify to you that he or she is an officer of the law. The red and blue lights blinking on his car is a dead giveaway. He will be in a uniform. She will have a badge and a gun. He has been authorized to do certain things that only an officer of the law is able to do. One of them is to pull you over for speeding and issue you a ticket. Now, you don't particularly care what this police officer's name is or if he has a good sense of humor or a sparkling personality. The only thing that is important is that he has been authorized to pull you over and stop you from speeding.

As a pastor, I don't get a badge and a gun, although that would be cool and might make Confirmation classes go a bit more smoothly! But no, the Church uses different symbols to identify to you someone who has been given the Office of the Holy Ministry. These symbols identify to you one who has been called and ordained and authorized by Jesus to serve His people by the preaching, teaching, and administration of the Sacraments. The clerical collar is a dead giveaway. During Divine Service the pastor wears an alb or some other vestment to cover him up. He will wear a stole to show that he has been ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry. He may wear a chasuble while presiding of the Holy Supper. You might think of these weird clothes as the pastor's uniform. The "uniform" assures you that the one preaching and teaching and baptizing and absolving and distributing Holy Communion has been authorized by Jesus to do so.

Why is this important? Because Jesus has promised to work through the Office of the Holy Ministry. He's the One who instituted it. It's His idea! He wanted to make sure that His people would receive His gifts. He promises to work through His Office so that you would receive His gifts. It's important to Him and so He sends pastors to deliver His gifts in Word and Sacrament to you. So you never need to doubt or worry or wonder if Jesus is truly giving you His gifts when "the called ministers deal with us by His divine command" as the Small Catechism teaches. It is for your assurance. It is for your comfort. It is for your certainty.

The pastor delivers to you the gifts of Jesus. Forgiveness. Life. Salvation. Receive these gifts regularly through the preaching of the Word. Through remembering the gifts Jesus gave in Holy Baptism. Through the Holy Absolution. Through the Body and the Blood. That's your pastor's job—to point you to Jesus. To be His delivery man. The weird clothes he wears are to draw your attention away from the man and point you to Jesus and His promises.

Rev. Michael Keith serves as pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and SML Christian Academy in Stony Plain, AB Canada. He can be reached at keith@st-matthew.com

Created: September 7th, 2016