It's Time to Talk about Power
Washed and Waiting
One pattern seems to recur through the pages of Scripture, just as it does in our daily lives: the pattern of undressing and dressing, washing and clothing. It is a pattern of vulnerability and power, and the two go together. We see it in the washing and vesting of Aaron and his sons. We see it in the Upper Room, when Jesus takes off his outer robe to serve, then puts it back on as he sits down to give a new commandment. We hear an echo of it in his remonstration to Peter: "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me" (John 13:8). We see it the next day, when Jesus is stripped of his ordinary clothing and clothed, mockingly but accurately, in the robes and crown of a king. It reaches its climax when Jesus gives up his life, then receives it back again—embracing our uttermost vulnerability, then being raised to the ultimate power.
The pattern continues when the first disciples, once laid low by the death of their Rabbi and Lord, are commanded by him to "stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." Clothed with power—invested, like Aaron's sons, with signs of a power beyond their own. Paul writes of Christians' resurrection hope: "While we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life" (2 Cor. 5:4, NRSV).
Paul's imagery of nakedness and clothing would have made visceral sense to early Christians, some of whom were baptized naked—naked as the day they were born, and as the day of their death, since baptism was both a death and a birth. Upon emerging from the water, they were vested with a white robe upon emerging from the water. The Resurrection will not return us to the Garden's nakedness. Instead, it will usher us into the fuller life of the City's martyrs, clothed according to Revelation in robes of white and vested with the symbols of reign and power.
Indeed, the church began to believe that more power was available to God's redeemed people than they had ever dreamed. "Do you not know," Paul asks the Corinthians, using a formula that strongly suggests they had heard these ideas many times before, "that we are going to judge angels?" Elsewhere, again using a phrase that marks a familiar tradition, Paul writes: "The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2:11–12, NRSV).
Like clothing, our signs and symbols of power, whether dramatic or subtle, point to a real destiny. We take up microphones because we are meant to speak with more than merely mortal voices. The wireless headset, with its combination of power and intimacy, is at its best a foretaste of the real power we will know in the City ruled by the Lamb.
All our uses of power, ultimately, will either reflect or distort the image of the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are meant to imitate the one who became naked so that we might be clothed. He rose from the utter dependence of death with an imperishable body, "more fully clothed"—so that we, too, clothed in his merciful robe, might be fully knowing and fully knowing in love's embrace. There we will find more vulnerability, and more power, than we ever feared or dreamed.
Andy Crouch is the executive editor of CT. His book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (InterVarsity) is being published this month.