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JOE LAGUARDIA: Easter allows us to clothe ourselves in the love of the Lord

Easter clothes us in the love of the Lord

Like most ministers, I look forward to Easter every year at church. We have special services, breakfast, and see families who are visiting from out of town. Everyone wears their best Easter clothes, and I wear my Easter bow tie. This will be about the eighth Easter in a row that I've worn one.

Easter is exciting not only because of the fancy clothes we wear, but because Christ gives us spiritual clothing as well. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us that the spiritual clothes God gives are for those who "have been raised with Christ" and "seek the things that are above" (3:1).

A person can't put on spiritual clothing, however, without taking off the old clothing of the world. Paul encouraged Christians to "strip off the old self" and take off "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language" (3:9, 8).

Notice how all of these clothes have to do with our speech and attitudes towards others. We wear our words, and our speech shows people who we really are. Our words reveal our heart: "It's not what goes into a person that defiles," Jesus once said, "but what comes out of a person's mouth" (Matt. 15:11).

This is very relevant for an Easter people concerned with being a witness for Christ. We are called to bring tidings of Good News, and our words must communicate and reflect this Good message.

Communication of Good News is not limited to what we say. It also includes our social networking correspondences; it includes how we express our perceptions of others. Our words can cause harm by perpetuating stereotypes or bigotry; they can abuse or cause malice. We can wield WMDs: words of mass destruction.

Paul's Easter message to the Colossians, among other things, was to strip off these worldly clothes. Instead, he insisted that Christians put on "compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (3:12).

This wardrobe has to do with our words, our attitudes and our behavior. Note, however, that these attributes get past words and go right to the heart. We may use kind words and be polite, we may smile and say many pleasantries, but that doesn't mean our heart is in the right place.

A spirit of compassion inspires words and a posture of kindness precisely because it inspires the ability to "bear with one another" and forgive one another (3:13). Only a Christ-formed heart can bear with others; only a redeemed life can experience forgiveness and extend it even to those who don't deserve forgiving.

After Easter, we are all called to speak about, speak according to, and exhibit God's grace -- there is no excuse to do otherwise. "Above all else," Paul said, "clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (3:14).

This is quite difficult in our nation. Our society -- as represented in technology, media, and partisan punditry -- actually dissuades harmony. In fact, much of our political and public discourse is outright hostile to a spirit of harmony. It divides, usurps, destroys and dismantles -- any talk of being inclusive, tolerant, kind, or compassionate is seen as weak and ideologically "liberal".

But Christians have no choice other than to promote harmony, even if it means being in community with people who don't agree.

Christ was persecuted and executed precisely because He advocated on behalf of a diverse group of people, from sinners to tax collectors to prostitutes. Likewise, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 22-24) because he brought together Jews and Gentiles, a diverse lot if there ever was one.

Even in the midst of difference and debate, Paul pushed for a community that prized harmony and compassion over competition and vitriol. His Christ-clothes pushed a singular agenda: to "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).

Before Easter, we simply had no choice but to stumble around in our worldly clothing. Our sinful nature consumed all of who we were; but, when Christ defeated sin on our behalf and forgave us, we got a new wardrobe that is as white as snow. Now, all we have to do is let our words and actions reflect this squeaky-clean attire.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.