Your Sunday Best

One of my sons took his mother to a “Celtic Women” concert for Mothers’ Day. (In case you’re wondering, for Fathers’ Day, I got the stubs.) He called the concert venue and asked what the appropriate attire was and they responded without missing a beat. “Your Sunday best.” Today, in my experience, that is anything from suit and tie to flip-flops and shorts.

My point is that even secularized Austin, Texas that prides itself in being two things that may very well be coterminous – weird and the live music capital of the world – still has a category of “Sunday best” and they surely don’t mean flip-flops and shorts. Yet we – the church – do. Again, at least from my experience.

If you have an old people Bible class and the class begins to lag or they begin to fade just bring up the subject of what people wear to church, and then Katy bar the door because your class is about to be off the hook,  “Mamma told me not to come” crazy.

I define old as above 75, but I’m below 60 and I agree with them. If when we change the language of our ancestors it is because we no longer understand what they were saying as C. S. Lewis opines, then when we change their dress “code” as radically as we have in the last 20 years it is because we no longer know why they dressed up.

Was it really for others? It could have been. It also certainly could have been for the Other whose House they were entering and at whose Table they were to dine.

Recently I read that when Luther said “fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training” he meant dressing up. Whereas most will admit if not by word then by deed that there is fine outward training in dressing for dinner, for prom, for marriage ceremonies, and to a lesser extent for funerals, many will not say this about dressing for church.  In fact, many act as if it is blow against pietism to dress down for Divine Service.

I see a correlation. As Luther said ceremonies ought to be retained in the Divine Service for the simple minded and uneducated (Elsewhere I have said that in these Latter Days we all fit this category theologically and that is why liturgical worship is to be retained.), so dressing up is to be retained by the complex minded and educated who know what is going on in the Divine Service.

If your “Sunday best” is fit to wear in the presence of Celtic women, surely it is fit to wear in the presence of the Holy God. Certainly I recognize that there are people whose “best” could be blue jeans and a the ubiquitous T-shirt, and they would be more welcomed at my Divine Service than at the aforementioned concert. At the same time, the other camp must confess that something is being said by those who throw on any old thing to come to Divine Service or won’t put on any special thing to do so.

Fullness of dress is no guarantee of faithfulness in doctrine, but it does say something to those worshiping with you about what you think is going on. Don’t believe me? Try showing up at a wedding or prom in flip-flops and shorts. You’ll get the message that your fellow attendees have gotten yours.

Frankly, I think I’m at the point where I am ready to show what sort of Divine Service low church dress calls for.  Minimalist at best. Contemporary at worst.

About Rev. Paul R. Harris

Ordained pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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