Prom is almost here. Have you ever wondered who the genius was behind this tradition? Let’s have a group of teenagers dress in expensive formal wear. Let’s have their parents pay top dollar for clothing that will only be worn once. Let’s have this formal event in a gymnasium and have everyone get sweat stains on their expensive formal wear by dancing around like it is P.E. class. Let’s call the event “Enchantment Under the Sea” and yet no one is allowed to dress in swim trunks, cabana wear or scuba gear. What’s the deal with prom? Proms seem far more elaborate these days than they were for me in an earlier century. But I do remember the first time I went to a prom. In fact I remember the first few times, because due to some strange alignment of the planets, I was invited to attend two proms and a formal banquet in the same month. That meant that I had three events where I would be required to rent a tuxedo. My parents did the math and reasoned that buying a tuxedo was cheaper than renting, especially when they factored in future formal events. (Thankfully they splurged and bought the basic black tux rather than the bargain baby blue suit with wide lapels and ruffles.) Owning a tuxedo will change you. When you rent a tuxedo, you have no commitment to the attire. It is nothing more than a costume. I can recall seeing groomsmen playing basketball in their rented tuxes. It is hard to make a layup when your cummerbund falls down around your knees. I have known teenagers to wear their prom tuxedos to worship just to get full value out of the rental. Next week that same kid will be wearing flip flops (not that there's anything wrong with that). When you own a tux, you are quite differently invested in the formality.
I was not a formal kid and my farm-dwelling, motorcycle-riding, hay-hauling family did not do formal. My teenage wardrobe consisted of worn out jeans and T-shirts. More than half of the clothes were yard sale finds or out of style shirts that my father used to wear (but I thought they were cool). But the tuxedo that permanently hung in the closet next to the Members Only jacket and the acid washed Levi’s with a hole in the knee required special care and demanded that I act like the sort of person worthy of wearing the pinnacle of formal wear. I had to learn how to apply the cuff links. I also had to know which way to turn the cummerbund (hint, it is a “crumb catcher” so look at the pleats). Since I was so invested I eventually eschewed a clip-on tie and learned to tie a real bow tie. This was pre-YouTube and pre-internet. Learning these things required effort and mentoring.
No one else probably cared as much as I did that I knew how to wear a tuxedo properly. I was still a citizen of a small town in Arkansas, but if I was recruited to challenge an international criminal mastermind to a game of poker at an exclusive casino, I was prepared. I could dress the part right and act the part as well. The tuxedo did not change who I was, but owning the tuxedo challenged me to behave differently.
The apostle Paul uses the imagery of wardrobe to describe discipleship. In Galatians 3:27, Paul says that everyone who has been baptized is clothed in Christ. In a culture where social status was signified by wardrobe, Paul is saying that everyone has new formal attire. There are no rented suits; everyone is a child of God and they own the proper attire to come to the family feast. In Romans 13:14, Paul urges us to be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ rather than our selfish desires. Being clothed in Christ requires us to adopt the appropriate behaviors, manners, and ethics. In Ephesians 4:24, the new mindset and behavior of a disciple (“the new self”) are described as putting on a new outfit. We do not ever go back to the ripped-up, stained and threadbare suit of the old self.
Perhaps prom and formal occasions like weddings are the few remaining events in which we concern ourselves to have some investment in our vestments. Perhaps the formal attire does encourage us to behave a little better. Certainly it is the inside that counts more than the outside. But if owning a tuxedo made me think about behaving like the sort of person who wears a tuxedo, then how much more should being clothed in Christ oblige us to behave like him.