A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues asked if I wanted his Alb that he no longer was using for worship. I gratefully accepted the gift and decided to wear it the following Sunday when we had a baptism to celebrate. Unlike my other robe (black “Geneva robe”), there is no ornamentation on the alb. It is a simple white linen robe. There are no bars on the sleeves showing that I have a doctorate, there are no velvet panels stretching down the front. The fabric is so much lighter and much freer than what I have been wearing for the last 20+ years in worship. A friend of mine once said that the alb is meant to signify more of the servant side of the person leading worship (like the towel that Jesus wrapped around himself when he washed the disciples’ feet). I thought of my new alb when I read the following in Ephesians 6 this morning.
Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.Ephesians 6
Back in the day, I remember reading that passage in the context of “going to battle” for the Lord. I remember sermons on that passage that just hammered on the sense of fighting the forces of evil in the power of God. While I don’t deny there is a reality of fighting against evil in the world, I have grown more and more uncomfortable with the imagery of war and battle and violence on behalf of God. My geneva robe feels a bit like that to me right now – it is bigger, more imposing, makes statements of power and authority, and it is heavy. Not sure that’s the message that the world needs right now.
The alb feels like a quote that I remember from Brene Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness. In her book, she pushes her readers to engage the world with a “strong back, soft front, and a wild heart.” In many ways, this is the opposite of a traditional suit of armor. The strong back is that which can take the arrows and the attacks that will invariably come. The soft front is a willingness to be open and vulnerable to others rather than trying to hide and protect ourselves. The wild heart is that which is open to the adventure of life and the world that is out there and is not afraid to “jump into the arena” as Brown often puts it. This new “armor” for me feels much more like this sense that Brown shares – it is strong yes, but it is open and welcoming, and it is a step to the new.