This Easter morning, as I get ready for church, I’ll choose something old from my closet. Yes, I know about new life, welcoming spring, the awakening colors of the world. I appreciate the tradition of new dresses and hats that some women and girls favor, the ones that make them look like so many fresh flowers breaking into bloom among the pews. I’ve even come to like the yellow marshmallow chicks and candied eggs my kids receive in children’s church. I’ve been slowly won over to these bright and sugary celebrations of Christ rising from the dead. But I won’t go shopping for a new dress this Easter.
It’s not self-punishment. I just know that when I go into shopping mode, sometimes I lose my sight. I cannot forget one particular moment I did just that in Africa. We were crossing the Sahara with 20 others in an expedition truck. In southwest Sudan, we stopped to eat lunch, surrounded by a flat, treeless expanse on every horizon. As we finished our canned beans and biscuits, locals mysteriously appeared, dressed in white gauzy rags. We saw no village anywhere. They brought wares to sell and lined up on their knees, each one in front of his work: mostly weavings and crude homemade musical instruments like a drum and a three-stringed guitar. Suddenly I shifted into consumer mode, walking the line of rail-thin vendors, examining their goods. I pursed my lips and judged the work clumsy and inferior, as something not worth my money. Fifteen minutes later, we drove off, leaving the men and boys in our dust. I didn’t even see their hungry, hopeful faces. This shopper missed it all.
In His short life, Christ wore raiment fit for His station only once. It was a hideous scene.
I know that cringe-worthy moment of self-absorption has been forgiven. And I know as well we’re not to worry about our clothes. When we waste our time and strength fretting over what we’ll wear, Jesus points to our favorite Easter flower—the lilies in their lovely skirts—to remind us of His lavish care: “Not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these” (Matt. 6:29). He could have imagined a thousand other flowers or creatures in that moment, each of them just as brilliantly dressed. The peacock in its turquoise plumage. A maple tree aflame with orange in the fall. Rainbows shimmering on the flanks of trout. But what’s the meaning of it all? That God loves His creation and clothes it in color and beauty. And if He expends this much care on the grass and flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t He care about our needs as well?
He will indeed! God has been dressing us from the very beginning. When Adam and Eve slunk from the garden in fig leaves, God covered them with animal skin. When He established the temple, His house among His people, God dressed the priests in holy garb. From the seamless woven tunic underneath to their robes, breastplate, and ephod, He covered them in attire fit for their unique role as chosen intercessors. And the temple itself was adorned with lush curtains of scarlet, purple, and blue—a covering to veil sinful man from a holy God.
God clothes His creations with protection and beauty, and He also “wraps himself in light as with a garment” (Ps. 104:2 NIV), yet there was a time when He chose no such splendor for Himself. When God’s Son was born, He was birthed in a barn, wrapped in strips of cloth, and laid in a feeding trough. As a man, He dressed in the robes of a carpenter, a commoner who had “no stately form or majesty . . . nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2). In His short life, Christ wore raiment fit for His station only once. It was a hideous scene.
Having stripped the Lord of His clothes, the soldiers hooted as they draped a king’s robe over His broken shoulders. They bowed in ridicule. They saluted in satire. They missed how well the robe fit. Even hours later, when Jesus was pinned essentially naked to the cross, the guards still did not see Him. They were bent to their game instead, gambling for His garment.
Jesus had already given them everything they needed. He healed people with no hope of restoration. He touched dead bodies so they climbed out of the coffin. He taught truths so piercing that closed, selfish hearts were opened. Even then, in that hour, He was giving His body, His life, for them. He was dying to dress them in robes of righteousness. But these Roman soldiers were busy. They were shopping. They knew they needed clothes, but they’d chosen the wrong ones. They did not recognize that the seamless tunic at their feet was the holy garb of a priest.
If I had been there that day, I like to think I would have stood with the grieving women, but I suspect I, too, might have been rolling dice. I know the value of clothes. I spent my childhood dressed in out-of-style homemade dresses, holey underwear, and clunky shoes that prompted mockery from my classmates. I went to college with my entire wardrobe in a single suitcase and, in time, learned how to be crafty and disguise my true poverty. Because of this, I love new threads more than I should.
But dressing well need not be selfish. Our garments can be a gift to others. When we dress modestly, we’re loving our neighbors. When we wear our best for weddings, funerals, and graduations, we honor our friends and family. Our clothes give shape, form, and color to our hopes and intentions for those who are rejoicing or grieving. At times, we dress to disappear, to let others take the stage. We dress to adorn the day, to bring color and beauty to the spaces we inhabit. All good.
But I still see them there, the soldiers. Their focus on that garment on the ground kept them from seeing Jesus, who was dying to give them attire of a different kind.
The story of Easter clothing does not end there, of course. Jesus went to the cross as our priest. His tunic was not rent—it remained perfectly intact. Only the curtain in the temple was torn top to bottom, giving us access to our holy God. After that, Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered and tenderly swaddled in cloth, much the way He was at birth. Then it was entombed and left to rot, as all flesh and fabric must.
But we know what happens. On the third day, Mary and the disciples stumble into a cave empty of all but the grave clothes, still there, left neatly as if Jesus just passed right through them. That pile of linen in the tomb is the final word: We’re leaving when we die. And our clothes aren’t going with us.
We won’t need them, of course. Christ laid His robes down so we could take and put them on. We’re clad so fully and so gorgeously, we can sing exuberantly like Isaiah: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isa. 61:10). And Christ was not done. He died to clothe us in righteousness and rose to dress us in eternal life, making our wardrobe complete.
Come Easter morning, I’m going to lift my voice to the rafters of the church. I’m going to invite as many as will fit at my Easter dinner table, and I plan to dress beautifully in the raiment of hope and joy. I don’t have to spend money for that. Some will go to church that morning shining in new dresses, suits, and pretty hats. Bless you all, and how lovely you will look!
But this year, I’ll choose something simple and well worn. Maybe it will keep me from looking around at what others are wearing, wondering where they bought it, and how much it cost. I don’t want to shop. I’d rather be looking up at the cross—at those empty grave clothes—and the One who left them behind.