Vestments

Why do pastors wear different clothing from the rest of the people in worship? Liturgical clothing, or vestments, serves a number of purposes. Before we discuss them, we need to be absolutely clear that the wearing of vestments in no way implies that the wearer is more holy or is closer to God than other people. Neither do Holy Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions require the use of particular clothing. While the ministry of the Old Testament had elaborate and costly vestments specifically mandated by the Lord (Exodus28), the ministry of the New Testament has no such regulations with respect to clothing.

So why vestments? Vestments accent our continuity with the past. Christianity is an historical faith rooted in God's saving work in history. The NT church has a history reaching back to Pentecost. Most of today's vestments hearken back to the early centuries of Christianity. The white robe called an alb (Latin albus meaning "white") is a 5th century garment. The colored band of cloth worn by a pastor, called a stole (Latin stola) has pre-Christian origins in the synagogue, and has been worn by the ordained since the 6thcentury. The chasuble, a flowing over garment sometimes worn by the celebrant at Holy Communion, is adapted from the 4th century cloak.

Vestments are visual signals of the office or work that a person has. Judges in our civil courts wear black robes. Policemen, firemen, and medical personnel all wear uniforms that tell us what they do. While clothes do not make the person, they do tell what office a person holds. The vestments peculiar to the office of the holy ministry are the stole and the chasubile. They show who in the congregation has been entrusted with the administration of the Word and the sacraments.

Vestments help to cover up the personality of the person. This is true also of cantors, readers, and the choir. The servant disappears behind the Lord whom he serves. Our Lord must increase; we must decrease. Whether the pastor prefers polyester or wool, power ties or open collar, may not distract us from the office he administers. He is there as Christ's servant. In the Liturgy, pastors are visually interchangeable. "For they do not represent their own persons but the person of Christ." "He who hears you, hears me." (Apology 7,28; Lk. 10:16).

Finally, vestments serve as festive adornment for the Lord's gifts. Celebration typically involves decoration. We use fine china and crystal, silverware and linens for those "extra special" occasions. When we go to a 4-star restaurant at 4-star prices, we expect the servants to be well attired. How much more at the Lamb's high feast of victory where he bestows the gifts of Calvary!