What can we learn about this fourth robe of Jesus, the Uniting Robe? First of all, this robe is mentioned in all four gospels and is related to when the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his robe during the crucifixion.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus was being crucified in between two criminals, he said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. And they cast lots for his clothing.”
This was common practice for Roman soldiers to divide up the clothing of executed criminals among themselves. When these soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, they fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:18. “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
In Mark’s telling of the crucifixion, probably the first written account which we have, it says in chapter 15, verse 24, “And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.”
In Matthew’s gospel it says in chapter 27, verse 35, “And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him.”
It is from John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion that we get the most detail about this robe which Jesus had been wearing.
Beginning in chapter 19, verse 23 John writes,
“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did.”
There’s a book by author Marjorie Holmes called The Messiah. This was the third in a series of books about the life of Jesus that were based on biblical knowledge about Jesus, but then Ms. Holmes filled in the blanks using historical fiction.
In her book, she said that Jesus’ grandmother, Anna had made the seamless robe for her grandson Jesus as an act of love. She had given it to him before he left to travel to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, which would be his last here on earth.
The author describes Anna’s feelings of agony and despair as she watched her grandson being crucified, along with the other women at the foot of Jesus’ cross.
While none of this is biblical, it does help us to think about this particular robe of Jesus. Jesus had parents and grandparents, and they must have shown human love and emotions and gave gifts as acts of love just like any other normal family does.
There are also some traditions held by the church surrounding the soldiers gambling for Jesus’ seamless robe.
It is said that this actual robe from Jesus is held as a relic in Trier, Germany. Here is what the information page on the cathedral’s website says:
“The most precious relic in Trier Cathedral is the Holy Robe, the tunic of Christ. According to tradition, the Empress Dowager Helena brought the seamless robe of Christ to Trier.
The Holy Robe is mentioned for the first time in the 11th century; the history of the Holy Robe is documented with certainty only from the 12th century, when it was removed from the west choir to the new altar in the east choir on May 1, 1196.
Since the Cathedral renovation in 1974, the Holy Robe has been kept in its wooden shrine from 1891, lying under an air-conditioned glass shrine. The last great pilgrimage, in 1996, became a celebration of all the faithful, with its continuation in the annual Holy Robe Days.
Only during the Holy Robe Days is the Holy Robe chapel accessible, but the garment cannot be viewed. The original state of the textile has altered because of past events and the unfavorable storage conditions, as repairs have frequently been made.”
The question of the genuineness of the Holy Robe cannot be answered with certainty. For the faithful, the symbolism is important: the relic signifies Jesus Christ himself, his incarnation and the other events in his life up to the crucifixion and his death.
The undivided and seamless garment is also a symbol of Christian unity and evokes the binding power of God, as is expressed in the Trier pilgrim’s prayer:
“Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer, have mercy on us and all the world. Be mindful of Thy Church and bring together what is divided. Amen.”
The symbolism of the unity of Christ’s Church exemplified in the seamless oneness of Christ’s seamless tunic is interesting. Too often the Church fails to be unified and instead we rip and tear at the fabric of the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed in the Gospel of John.
Today’s focus on the uniting robe of Jesus gives us an opportunity today to reflect on unity as it relates to our denomination as well as at the local church level.
The United Methodist Church has approximately 13 million members throughout the world. That’s a big number! Here in the United States, there are a little more than 7 million United Methodists.
Our church here in Athens is one of 32,148 congregations here in the United States! There are another 10,631 congregations in other countries.
Every four years, our denomination holds what we call “General Conference” where United Methodists elected from all over the world meet for several days to make decisions on a range of issues from how we are structured as a denomination to our stances on a variety of social issues.
Half of the General Conference voting members are laity and the other half are clergy. Our most recent General Conference met out in Oregon in May of 2016.
The purpose of having a General Conference is to make any needed changes to this procedural book, “The Book of Discipline,” and this book, “The Book of Resolutions.”
Just look at how thick “The Book of Resolutions” is! It contains the United Methodist stance on over 200 social issues ranging from gun control to issues related to human sexuality.
So, our elected United Methodist delegates, half of which are laity and the other half are clergy meet every four years to decide on these many important issues. That’s why General Conference lasts close to two weeks. That’s how long it takes to cover all of these important topics.
And guess what? These delegates don’t all agree on what our stances should be. But at the end of the day, after a lot of prayer, conversations, debate, and more prayer, a vote is taken and that is what becomes the official stance of the United Methodist Church. We agree to disagree on these matters of faith.
We don’t all interpret the Bible in the same way. John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement back in the 1700’s encouraged people to interpret the Bible by keeping in mind what he called the quadrilateral approach which involves interpreting the Bible by through the lens of church tradition, reason, and experience.
That’s why when you go to a bible study and people offer their thoughts about a scripture passage or hear a sermon, you can come away with a very different interpretation of scripture. And that’s OK because that’s what the Bible is designed to do.
It’s been said that whenever two Jewish rabbis come together to study the scriptures, that there will always be at least three different opinions.
Have you ever noticed how much of the Bible is not designed to be an answer book as it is more of an invitation for each one of us and for the whole church to think in a deeper way about our faith? People who think that the Bible is simply an answer book often become disillusioned when they realize that most of the Bible is in story form. And these stories of faith are not meant to give us simple moral lessons and spoon feed us but to get us to think about who God is and who God is calling us to be.
Think of it this way. Always keep in mind that the Bible was not written TO you, but it was written FOR you.
And that means we first need to understand what a bible passage meant to the original listeners before we decide on what it might mean for us today.
So when you leave from a worship service, the goal isn’t that you get an easy answer on how to live out your faith. The goal is that you will leave here on any given Sunday prepared to wrestle, struggle, think, reflect, discuss, and pray about how you encountered God through that worship service. That’s the goal.
That’s a different kind of unity than simply a bunch of people believing in the same things. The biblical approach to unity is that we are all striving together in discovering what it means to be God’s faithful people. And guess what? That striving together never ends. God wants us to strive, to grow, and wrestle throughout our lifetime.
Think of unity like this. We are fellow strivers in our faith journey. We are fellow strivers in our faith journey.
Here’s an example of this striving and discerning process that the United Methodist Church is facing today. We are in the process of discerning a way forward regarding our understanding of human sexuality as it relates to our faith.
Our current church rule states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with the Christian faith. This language was added to the Book of Discipline back in 1972. This means that people who are gay and who are not celibate are not permitted to be ordained in our denomination. It also means that clergy are not permitted to officiate a gay marriage.
United Methodists are not of the same mind on this issue. Over the course of my 30 plus years as a pastor, I have had people come to me and say that they are leaving the denomination because they don’t even think that this issue should be debated because they are absolutely convinced that the Bible views the practice of homosexuality as a sin.
I have also had other church members who are more progressive in their interpretation of scripture come to me to say that they are leaving the denomination for the opposite reason. They don’t view it as a sin.
And factor in that we have many people who are somewhere in the middle of those two ends of the theological spectrum.
This is why our denomination has called a special session of the General Conference which will meet in February, 2019 to find a way forward on this issue. A commission representing United Methodists from around the world has been meeting for the past several months to come up with a recommendation that will be presented at this special General Conference for official consideration.
Currently, they are now considering a couple of options. One option would be to remove the prohibitive language on this issue from the Book of Discipline and allow annual conferences, local churches, and pastors decide on how they will handle this issue. The other option would be for the United Methodist Church to divide into smaller denominations underneath the larger United Methodist Church name. This smaller denominations would be based on a church’s stance on these issues related to human sexuality.
We should know sometime in July, which of these recommendations will be submitted to the February special General Conference for consideration.
I share this very specific issue as it relates to the unity of the church with you because I invite you to be in prayer for everyone who is involved in this process.
I also share this with you because this is just one example of the wrestling, the discerning, and the struggle that is part of being a people of faith. There are no spoon fed answers when it comes to following Christ.
In the scriptures, we find this tug of war happening all of the time. Peter and Paul have a fierce conversation in the Book of Acts about the inclusion of Gentiles into the new Christian faith. They had to have their own special commission to decide on that very important issue. It was called the Jerusalem Council. You can read about that in Acts, chapter 15. Luke tells us that there was much debate over this.
Notice that they disagreed over a very controversial issue and yet they found a way forward together. They found a compromise in how they interpreted the scriptures differently. Even the people in the Bible had to strive and wrestle in their faith together.
What keeps us together? What makes us one? What helps us to touch the uniting robe of Jesus?
Well, it’s not like I have an easy answer because that would kind of go against everything I just said in my sermon wouldn’t it? There are no spoon fed answers.
Just three short phrases that a diverse group of people say in unison every time they gather for Holy Communion.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Come, Touch the Uniting Robe of Jesus
Psalm 22:1-18 & John 19:16b-25a
March 4, 2018
As we think about the different robes of Jesus during this season of Lent and how they can draw us closer into a deeper faith, the robe that the soldiers took from Jesus has been traditionally known as the “seamless robe.” A cathedral in Trier, Germany claims to have this robe and it can be viewed today.
When have you experienced God’s presence because of people being unified behind a cause or purpose? What was that like for you personally?
In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared these words: “So when you leave from a worship service, the goal isn’t that you get an easy answer on how to live out your faith. The goal is that you will leave here on any given Sunday prepared to wrestle, struggle, think, reflect, discuss, and pray about how you encountered God through that worship service. That’s the goal.”
When have you wrestled or struggled in your faith over a particular scripture or issue? How did it help you grow stronger in your faith?
A challenging issue related to the unity of the church is facing the United Methodist Church. Our denomination is wrestling with what our stance should be on the issue of homosexuality. Currently, our Book of Discipline does not allow the ordination of people who are gay and non-celibate. It also does not permit a pastor to officiate at a same sex marriage. This summer, a special commission will present a recommendation for consideration at a February, 2019 General Conference. The recommendation will be either 1) Remove the prohibitive language in the Book of Discipline and let annual conferences, local churches and pastors decide what to do or 2) Divide the United Methodist Church into smaller denominations where each local church can decide which to join depending on their stance on homosexuality.
What questions or thoughts do you have about this process?
Pastor Robert concluded the sermon by saying that even though the Bible doesn’t provide easy answers to complex issues, it does invite us to wrestle in our faith and find our unity in Jesus Christ.
Close your time together by praying this prayer for unity that comes from the cathedral in Germany that houses the seamless robe of Jesus:
Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer, have mercy on us and all the world. Be mindful of Thy Church and bring together what is divided. Amen.