Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Seamless Robe of Christ

The small details of the gospels fascinate me. The minutiae that others ignore capture my attention. One of these small details is the seamless robe of Christ. When Jesus was crucified, the Romans stripped him and divided his personal possessions among themselves. There were four soldiers and they made four piles. One wonders what else was in those four piles.

Jesus' most valuable possession was his tunic. It was made with such extraordinary craftsmanship that the soldiers did not want to ruin it by tearing it into four pieces. So they cast lots for it. John notes that this was in fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah in the Psalms.

There has been much speculation about this robe over the centuries. One account says that the robe was cut into pieces and divided in order to protect it from theft or loss. What the Romans crucifers would not do, the church felt it necessary to do. No less than six churches in Germany, France and Russia, claim to possess the robe or fragments of it. There was even a film made about the robe back in the 1950's, appropriately entitled "The Robe."

I am not interested in Hollywood epics or holy relics. But I am intrigued that the apostle John would include this detail of the tunic in his passion narrative. It seems to have some significance beyond itself.

A seamless robe is out of place in a crucifixion scene. Normally at a death, robes were torn as a sign of grief. This robe is purposely not torn. If you believed Mel Gibson's bloody rendition of the passion of Christ, there would be little left of any garment that Jesus wore at this trial. But here it is - the perfect, seamless robe of Christ lying at the foot of the cross.

The Church fathers saw it as a symbol for the unity of the church. But the church hardly appears unified to me. I see the robe of Christ more simply as a sign of love. 

Someone - likely one of his women followers - wove that robe for him. Perhaps it was his mother - like Hannah making a robe annually for her son Samuel. Perhaps it was one of the other Marys or Martha. Was it a gift from a grateful sinner forgiven for her sins, an offering of cloth for his body like another sinner poured spikenard on his feet? We can never know and probably should not speculate too long. We might end up believing our own theories.

But it was likely a gift because Jesus was no weaver, and he had no money to purchase such a garment. It was made with love and worn with love. It is a sign of love for the one who was love and died for love. It prompts us to give our gifts of love to this One who is the Lover of our souls.

Image is a stamp commemorating the Exhibition of the Seamless robe of Jesus at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Trier, Germany.

10 comments:

  1. This is a good post. I've heard a lot of theories about Jesus' tunic, but they all seem to be speculation. I like what you've written here and I especially like, "We can never know and probably should not speculate too long. We might end up believing our own theories."

    I agree the tunic is probably a gift given to Jesus out of love. I like the idea of it being a gift from his mother since she is mentioned with John a few verses later (John 19:26-27). BUT, that is MY theory and I need to be cautious about believing it.

    Keep up the good work!

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  2. A more plausible explanation is that it's an allusion to Ex. 28:31-32, the high priest's garment that was not to be torn. The contrast between Jesus' garment not being torn and the high priest tearing his garment at Jesus' trial are surely connected. The Hebrew Scriptures form the bedrock of the gospels so let's first look for our answers from the Bible itself.

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  3. A more plausible explanation is that it's an allusion to Ex. 28:31-32 describing the high priest's garment that was not to be torn. The fact that Jesus' garment wasn't torn and that the high priest tore his garment at Jesus' trial are surely connected. The Hebrew scriptures form the bedrock of the Gospels and we should first look for our answers from the Bible itself.

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  4. I see a seamless garment as a huge symbol. There is no back sewn to the front. Meaning there is no longer any ties to the Jewish faith. Christ's garment is the whole "enchilada".

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  5. In searching for info on the seamless robe, I found out that kind of weaving came from the Coptic area in Egypt. Which is interesting as that is where Joseph and Mary fled to after they left Bethlehem, thus giving weight to the theory that Mary made the robe. The word used for the robe is chiton (Greek) or haluq (Mishnaic Hebrew) and is actually not an over garment like many believe, but an undergarment, sleeveless with blue or purple stripes going over the shoulders down each side. The width of the stripe (clavi) could also denote status and/or age of wearer.

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  6. Here is something interesting about the priestly garments: as long as Aaron and his sons wore their priestly garments while carrying out their priestly duties in the Tabernacle or in the Holy of Holies, they would neither incur guilt nor die (Exodus 28:43). Inasmuch as we think of Christ's seamless tunic as His priestly garment, seamless at that, belonging to the one true High Priest, His priestly garment had to be removed so that He could thus bear our sins and pay the penalty of death that our sins have brought upon us.

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  7. Here's something else to think about,something I've pondered for years, but only in light of this discussion has begun to come into focus: In Luke 5:36, Jesus said, "No one tears a piece of cloth from a NEW GARMENT and uses it to patch an OLD GARMENT; the NEW GARMENT would be torn AND wouldn't even match the old garment." Masterful! Consider Jeremiah. 31:31-37: First, the seamless tunic represents the New Covenant promised by the Lord Himself. Second, he thus writes His laws on people's hearts ("I will put My laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts...they will not need to teach their neighbors" - verses 33 and 34). It's fascinating to see the Lord looking down upon these men and GRACIOUSLY and MERCIFULLY writing on their hearts and opening these soldiers eyes as they turn this "NEW GARMENT" over in their hands beginning to grasp the unsurpassable value within their (yes, their) reach! These Roman soldiers begin to see what the leading priests REFUSE to see: "The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by earthquake and ALL that had happened. THEY said, "Truly this was THE SON OF GOD!" (Mt27:54). Well, they were close: He IS the Son of God! "I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind." (In9:39)

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  8. The connection to the author's insight is this: that which was surely given to Christ Jesus in a loving gesture, Christ Jesus lovingly gives to all of us, through the hands of the Roman soldiers who are certainly touched by our Savior's merciful and redeeming gaze as they sit at the foot of the cross gazing upon that Seamless Tunic, which given freely, has released us from the penalties incurred under the Old Law and makes it possible for us to receive His own Holy Spirit so that we can finally conform our will to the Father's perfect will for each of us by LIVING OUR NEW LIVES in the Spirit! (see Romans 8:1-4)

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  9. Hmmm! Look up the lyrics of the riddling Scarborough Fair - apart from the coat without seams - the meaning of the herb names is also interesting. Perhaps a reminder to faithless souls?

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