By Laurel Droz (and Pastor Matt with scriptural support)
Have you ever had nothing to wear? Not literally nothing, but not the right thing; not the thing you are expected to wear for the circumstance.
This happens often: with an unexpected invitation to a wedding or a job interview or a night out someplace fancier than than your normal jeans and t-shirt combo would work.
One of the weirdest times to experience this feeling though is a funeral. The very first clothes were created by God as a covering for sin. “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of [animal] skins and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21 (ESV) Death enters the world because of Adam and Eve’s first sin. Death is complicated in all sorts of ways, and an unexpected death even more so (though really, is death ever actually expected, even when we think it is?) It throws everything into chaos and among all the many things you are left sorting through you are also suddenly in need of a somber, semi-formal outfit to wear to the funeral. And it’s such a weird thing to worry about something so superficial in a situation that is literally life and death.
But it matters.
Try walking into a funeral in sweat pants and a stained shirt. Or a low cut sequined dress. Or a bathing suit. Or pajamas. Or even just jeans and a t-shirt. Sure, not everyone would care or notice, but probably at least one person would register your appearance as being disrespectful.
We judge others by the clothes they wrap themselves in, even if we don’t mean to and even if we wouldn’t appreciate being similarly judged ourselves. We even do this in church.
Think of the term “Sunday Best.” It stems from the idea that we put on our very nicest clothes to head to church. And while that idea is evolving and certainly isn’t a universal standard today, it’s still a topic of discussion. It can be difficult deciding what is appropriate to wear to church, especially if you are new here.
Some people will be confident enough they can figure out something Sunday appropriate that it won’t cause much strife, but surely others have lost hours in search of something that will make them appear acceptable. And if they can’t find that thing that makes them feel like they look like a person should look in church, they might just skip attending all together, because it feels awful to be someplace and feel that you don’t belong.
Now, if what we look like on the outside can cause so much strife, think about what it must feel like to be someone who feels that same way about who they are inside.
Whether or not it should, the idea of the sort of person who goes to church regularly often conjures certain stereotypes. And if you don’t see yourself as fitting into that mold (even if it doesn’t actually exist) it can make walking into a church feel like going to a funeral in a bathing suit. But Jesus does something amazing for us. Jesus washes us in our baptism by the water and the Word, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:27 (ESV)
Since this is often a question of what the person is feeling inside rather than anything perceptible outside, it can get tricky for a congregation to get past this hurdle and reaching those uncomfortable filling the pews. But there’s one common message we can send in our actions and our words that would echo Jesus’ work for us: come as you are.
Do you swear or rage or drink a little too much? Come as you are. Do you have questions or hesitations or bad previous experiences with a church? Come as you are. Do you feel unworthy or unlovable or unable to live up to whatever expectations you think come with walking in those doors? Come anyway. Just as you are. Because you have a savior in Jesus Christ who makes you his own you can proclaim with the prophet Isaiah: “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10 (NLT)
None of us, not one of us, is perfect. We are all, in our own way, wearing a bathing suit at a funeral. And it’s okay. We’re okay. We are loved anyhow. He takes our sin and rags, and gives us His perfect righteousness. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
Come on in, just as as you are, and know you are loved.