Preached on Sunday 23rd August 2015 at All Saints’, Cuddesdon and St Giles’ Horspath by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington.
Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
It is that time of year when those of us with children raid the cupboards once again to see what out of the array of school clothes still fits and what doesn’t. There is nothing like witnessing a child in trousers too short for them or a skirt that barely reaches the thigh let alone the knee, to remind one of the gradual passage of time and the imperceptible reality of growing up.
Yesterday, Eleanor, a young member of St Mary’s, kindly came round to see Katie. She brought with her a box and a bag full of old clothes that she was going to take to the charity shop. Katie, however, got first pick and I was treated to a fashion show of dresses and tops that looked as if they were made for her. Of course, with so many new items to stow away the inevitable clearing out had to take place. Much loved items that had barely come off her back had to be thrown into a pile and the precious dress, worn to shreds was sadly placed in the bin. Still, one or two clothes which held memories too sacred to cast off were kept and hung up in the back of the cupboard as reminders of days and moments which inevitably were no more.
Clothes, like other objects, can hold such memories and emotions that they speak to us on so many different levels. We all have our favourite clothes, the ones that come out time and again and it’s hard to get them off the owner’s back to wash them. When I was at university I used to have this lucky blue dress. It was the most comfortable dress I had and I have to admit that I looked rather good in its low neckline and empire waist, and so I wore it to all the exams I took at that time. It was hard, as you can imagine, to have to admit that the fabric really had been worn out and I could no longer wear it. Conversely, many of us have the special garments, worn only occasionally and come out only when a moment is to be marked or an event to be celebrated. These hang in the cupboard waiting for their turn to see the sun, when we dress ourselves in our very best in order to look our very.
What we wear also says something about us and what matters to us. To be honest, I can’t tell the difference between Levi jeans and those bought from Primark, or whether a jacket is real leather or not. Thankfully we live in an age when shopping for clothes at a charity shop or looking through the latest boutique for bags worth £400 do not have to define who we are or how big our bank balance is. But there are still times when we robe ourselves in garments that do express what really matters to us. Last weekend we had two christenings, one in All Saints’ and the other in St Giles’, both of the babies wore beautiful gowns that had been passed down the family. Eva wore the same dress her mother and her grandmother had been baptised in at Cuddesdon church. These are our special robes, our sacred garments which speak on different levels, one of heritage, another of ritual but perhaps most importantly they express outwardly that this child is robed in white as are the saints in light, they are enfolded in the light of Christ.
Within this context Paul’s use of militaristic clothing image in his letter to the Ephesians holds a number of issues for us at the present time when we see young men and women being seduced by a false spirituality of violence to head abroad and fight in the name of religion. For many of us the image of God enfolding us in his love like being wrapped in a cloak which is so memorably expressed by Julian of Norwich perhaps expresses in our day what Paul was trying to say in his language of armour. For central to his words is the same idea of being robed, of putting on items of clothing which not only say something about what matters to us, with whom we identify, but also seeks to encase us in the protecting power of Christ. Paul envisages God adorning us with items that impart his power and strength in order to enable us to live a life of faith. These are: a breastplate of righteousness, shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace, a shield of faith, a belt of truth, a helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. All of the items don’t just show whose side we are on, but have a very practical use in living out our faith in the rough and tumble of daily lives. Each of them are given to us so that we can enclose ourselves in the person of Christ.
Perhaps the most memorable rendering of this idea of being enfolded in the protecting presence of Christ is found in the fifth century lorica or invocation attributed to St Patrick and which we often sing in its Victorian version.
I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation; his baptism in Jordan river; his death on cross for my salvation; his bursting from the spicèd tomb; his riding up the heavenly way; his coming at the day of doom: I bind unto myself today. I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, his eye to watch, his might to stay, his ear to hearken, to my need; the wisdom of my God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward; the word of God to give me speech, his heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three. Of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word: praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.
To be said or invoked every morning perhaps as one puts on their physical clothes, this invocation to Christ and all that he has done, is put on like a breastplate to remind us that whatever we do, whatever we have to face, that we are encased and enrobed in the saving presence of Christ. Once robed in his presence our main task is not to attack those of flesh and blood or even to wage war against the forces of evil but for Paul it is to pray, to live in the conscious knowledge of the immediacy and dependency of that relationship where our lives are truly enfolded and hidden in Christ. Amen.