Liturgical Vestments and the Ecumenical Calendar in the Reformed Church

Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

  • John 11:16

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

  • John 14:5-6

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

  • John 20:24-29

“Dear God, open my eyes and enlarge my heart so that I may understand and feel the gifts that you placed in this apostle.  Spirit who sent him, who led him, and who filled him: fill me, inspire me, transform me into a new creation. …

”He was weakness itself.  But you took pleasure in making your strength shine through him.

“The world, completely worldly as it is – critical, wicked, full of scandal, unteachable, hard-hearted, so false and deceitful that it even deceives itself, having no appetite for truth, which it hates, mad lover of flattering lies – this world was unable to resist the one who was nothing in himself.  That one, through his nothingness, was everything in God.  God speaks through his puny creature, and God’s spoken word, which made the world, renews it.”

  • François Fénelon, God of my Heart

What does all this have to do with the title of the post?  Today is St. Thomas day in the ecumenical calendar.  A day that is not recognized by the reformed church.  Yet, having just finished François Fénelon, God of my Heart, I had to write a little about the ecumenical calendar.  The book is a collection of the author’s reflections on some of the days of the ecumenical calendar, days selected by Fénelon.

The reformed church appreciates the apostles, but they do not lift the apostles to some higher plain.  They are assumed to be among the 24 elders of Revelation 4-5.  (Might I say that I still think that the elder who told John to not weep in Revelation 5:5 was John.  John, in his vision, is taken outside time and space.  It would be a rookie mistake to think that John would not bump into himself in that situation.  I say this because I made this comment once in a Sunday school class and was attacked, I suppose as a heretic, for suggesting it.  But of the 24 elders, which one had a vested interest in calming this mere mortal down so that he would think clearly while recording what he saw?  It could be Simon the Zealot, for all I know.)

But what we have above is the sum total of Thomas in Scripture, other than being among those listed in lists of disciples or apostles – yet much more than Simon the Zealot.  Does anyone see an overall theme in the three passages?  Take them in order.  In John 11, Jesus goes to Jerusalem and Thomas suggests that they go with him, to die.  Then in John 14, he asks Jesus where the way is.  He wanted to follow, but he had no idea where he was going.  Those two verses describe us at times, going without any direction.  Then he doubted what the others said about the risen Jesus.

The only significance, in the reformed church at least, of the great saints of old, is to realize that we are saints also.  We can see Thomas in us.  As Fénelon writes above, we must become nothing, so that Christ can work within us.  Thomas made mistakes.  He boldly went without knowing where he was going.  He had to see the risen Jesus to believe Jesus had risen.  Yet, once filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we must assume that the Apostle Thomas did great things for the kingdom of God, for he was filled with the Holy Spirit – just as we have the same capability.

So, enough of 21 December on the ecumenical calendar.  I will probably quote much more from this delightful book in that what is said can apply to most days, not just the “holy” days.  Besides, Holy Week is a few months away.

As for the reformed church, I grew up in a Presbyterian church in Mississippi.  We had white vestments.  Period.  After all, “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land.  And cotton is white!  Nuff said!  End of the subject!

No, the Presbyterian church (USA), which I was not a part of at the time, allowed liturgical vestments based on the ecumenical calendar in 1970.  Lent and Advent use purple, a color to signify waiting.  The holidays of the church use white.  The one exception is Pentecost – which uses red.  Green is for ordinary days.  There may some variations.  I saw a pastor come into the sanctuary one Easter morning with a purple stole.  He proclaimed, “He is risen!”  The congregation, as is tradition, replied, “He is risen, indeed!”  At that point the pastor flipped the purple to show the white on the other side, signifying that Christ had risen.  I only saw that once in my 60+ years.

As for the ecumenical calendar, I have heard of many different days being observed in other churches, but I have only observed Christmas, Ash Wednesday (without ashes), Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost.  I now recognize the seasons of Advent and Lent, but when I was growing up, Lent was a four-letter word.  Probably due to it being associated with F-A-S-T and F-I-S-H, but I’m just guessing.  To channel my inner Gracie Allen, I was very young back then, surprised by what I was seeing, and didn’t ask many questions about the traditions of the church.

For those who don’t know Gracie Allen, wife of George Burns, one of her famous quotes was When I was born I was so surprised I didn’t talk for a year and a half.”   She made up for it ever since.

So there you have it.  Other reformed faiths may have variations to the use of vestments.  There may even be Presbyterian churches that celebrate additional religious holidays, but I like what Wally Fry once commented to me about his church.  (Paraphrased below)

“We worship Christ and Him crucified, dead, and risen from the dead every Sunday.”

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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