For some reason I find a lot of inspiration in the stories of nameless and faceless people from the Bible. The four friends who lowered their friend are a great example. I want to be like them. Another unnamed group are the folks who helped Lazarus out of his ‘death clothes’. These anonymous people are role models, indeed!
My thoughts took a circuitous route before it settled on these guys. It began as I listened to a conversation my wife was having with a friend as we were on our way to the gym. The staff at my friends building were conducting a survey to find out why people were not using the laundry room in the building. At that point my mind drifted back to conversations I had with people some 13 years before. “Where do you do your laundry?” was one of the questions I asked as I roamed the Up Town neighbourhood, trying to get to know the church neighbours. I learned that many people felt they could not afford coin operated machines. Some would wear their clothes until they couldn’t stand them anymore (or until they could stand by themselves) and then go to a clothing bank and get a new set. This revelation led to the creation of a church based laundry room. The idea was that while clothes spun in a washer or dryer we would have opportunity to get to know our neighbours and in time share the reason for the hope we have.
When I first heard of this idea of wearing one set of clothes, I must admit, I cringed a little but the idea of changing filthy clothes and exchanging them for fresh new ones is a very sensible one. What makes less sense would be to get new clothes and put them on over the rotten ones! It seems to me this is exactly what we do when we retain ‘worldly’ or culture ways and merely put the new garments of faith over them. If we did this on the physical plane it would be disgusting! Is it less so because it is on a less visible plane?
We like Lazarus need to strip away our ‘death clothes’ the way of the ‘old man’. As we come to faith there is much new to ‘put on’ and to learn but there are a number of things we are to “put off”: anger, wrath, malice etc. (Col.3:8 – 15) the old self (Eph. 4:22 & 24), deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12 -14), filthiness (James 1:21) and many more. Too often this stripping away is neglected and we try and layer on the positive virtues which are ours by faith. The stench of the ‘death clothes’ mock our testimony of new life.
We need to strip away these clothes but like Lazarus we cannot! We need help. We need community yet in our culture of privatized faith we lack the resource necessary. It seems to me that the nameless heroes outside Lazarus’ tomb set us an example. We are to help one another with the grave clothes. My wife does me a favour when she tells me I have spinach in my teeth or that my fly is down. A feeling of embarrassment soon gives way to gratitude that now I am presentable. She discreetly speaks the truth in love and because of our relationship I am glad she does. When I see a stranger with his fly down or spinach in his teeth I am much less likely to point it out to him because I have no real means of doing so discreetly.
Ridding ourselves of death clothes requires a depth of relationship. It requires a community. We will seldom find this community at the main service on a Sunday morning. Such community is built through honest relationships which thrive outside the walls of any church and spill back in.
I am grateful that Street Hope is a community that helps strip away the grave clothes so that we can be suitably fitted with the Good News of Jesus Christ.