Rend your hearts, not your garments . . .

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.         
 Joel 2:12-18
I am not sure that Joel intended to be prophetic in quite this way. But as we begin the season of Lent, I think his words from the first reading this Ash Wednesday offers an opening for us to talk a little  about dress sense in church.

It is wonderful to see young people drawn to church. Hopefully, it means, among other things, that they are looking for a space in which to grow their spirituality.  So it does not help to scold.

ShortsBut codes of conduct and guidance on manners have been tossed out the window in so many areas of life that we really cannot assume that young people have been taught, or instinctively know what is acceptable–or not acceptable–attire for church.  Perhaps we, as parents, educators, ministers and counsellors, withhold the guidance that we should be providing for fear of treading on personal feelings or appearing out of touch with the times.  God forbid that we should not seem cool!

We, who mentor young people about to enter the business world, don’t hesitate to offer advice about good grooming, dressing for success, dining protocols, how to make a presentation–even how to shake hands and introduce oneself. So, why, I wonder, would we not offer similar guidance on what to wear–and notjeans wear–to church?  We pay so much attention to the color of the priest’s vestments and how the altar is dressed as the liturgical year unfolds. I think Joel would agree that it’s time we paid as much attention to how people in the pews present themselves to share in the holy Eucharist.

Perhaps if we did, we could concentrate better on the sustenance we draw from the Eucharist. It would free us from having to pray fervently that the fashionably shredded jeans don’t reveal any more thigh, or bra straps  don’t go AWOL on bare shoulders, or that the tight skirt or short shorts do not ride up any further as offerings are taken up, ever so reverently to the altar. (Bow your heads, and wince.)

Maybe, taking our cue from Joel, we could suggest, that just for chapel, skip the short shorts. Save them for the picnic. And come ready to rend your heart, but leave garments already rended in the closet.

For surely we wouldn’t want Jesus to blush.

 

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