May is the month for high school proms. I know because I found my niche designing and sewing prom dresses, bridesmaids, and wedding gowns part-time in the 1990’s. My apartment second bedroom was set up as a sewing room filled with stacks of eveningwear fabric, patterns, sewing supplies, beads, and lace. Within this special occasion field, my creativity found expression and came to life. Not only did I make extra money, I also dazzled my sewing customers with the gowns they had envisioned.
Oftentimes they would bring me a picture of the dress they wanted me to create for them. Many of the high school girls I made prom dresses for had very sophisticated taste. I told people later that I felt like I was sewing for Cher!
One girl brought me a pattern for an off-the-shoulder gown that was knee-length in front and tapered to full-length in the back. She brought me 10 yards of a rust-colored iridescent taffeta, a unique color that would stand out against the pastel hues worn to the prom. The construction of the dress was unusual because the fabric had to be doubled to use as a self-lining for the see-through aspect of the short hem in front. I added an oversized bow and full-length ties to the back for extra drama. My young customer grinned from ear-to-ear when she came to try on the dress for the final fitting, signaling to me that I had nailed it!
Another girl brought me a flame-orange crepe fabric with a matching sparkly shear. She had a picture of a dress with gathered shirring up all the seams, creating tight folds across the dress. The dress had a slit up the back so she would be able to walk, finished with a “mermaid style” gathered insert using the shear fabric. I also draped the shear fabric across the neckline, the ends meeting at the short cap sleeves. The finished gown hugged her slender curves perfectly. She proudly modeled her dress for a girlfriend who came with her when she picked up the dress.
That same friend hired me to make her prom dress too. This girl had gorgeous jet-black long hair and she chose lipstick-red poly satin for her fabric. Again, I copied a picture of an expensive designer dress she clipped out of a glamour magazine. This gown had a small, draped cowl at the neckline in front and a more dramatic capelet that hung mid-back, gathered at the shoulder. The body of the dress had simple lines with a short, graceful train rounded in the back. She brought her mother with her when she came to pick up the dress. Her mom started crying when she saw how beautiful her grown-up daughter looked!
Then the mom turned to me and asked how much I would charge to make the exact same dress for her in royal blue? I could tell she wanted to look exactly like her daughter. I looked at her and demurred because she was shorter than my 5’3” height. How was I going to explain to her that the gown would not be the same on her? The dress that perfectly enhanced her daughter’s willowy young figure would not work as well for her. Although the mom was lovely in her own middle-aged way, her young daughter was spectacular! I carefully changed the subject and sent them off excited about the upcoming prom night.
Let’s keep this scene in mind as Scripture refers to an old order and a new order. Jesus used the imagery of unshrunk cloth and new wine to symbolize two religious epochs now known as The Old Covenant and The New Covenant. The Law of Moses and its system of
perfunctory animal sacrifice was to be fulfilled and replaced by the sacrifice of Christ once and for all. Jesus challenged his followers to go and learn for themselves what those sacrifices stood for. “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice…’” (Matthew 9:13) The symbol of sacrifice represented the condition of the human heart and God’s call for us to reflect the same mercy as He shows to us.
He introduced John the Baptist’s disciples and His own to the radically new lifestyle of following Him as their long-awaited Messiah. “But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results.” (Matthew 9:16) Resources say that the failings of the current religions system of attempting to uphold the law could not be patched and made better. Instead, it had to be replaced by a new order. The promises of the Law and the Prophets were destined to someday be fulfilled. Jesus arrived to do just that. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)
Jesus goes on the combine a second analogy about new wine. “Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out; and the wineskins are ruined; but they put the new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17) Like the miraculous sign at the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine and the guests exclaimed, “Truly you have saved the best for last!” (John 2:1-11), Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit entering and infilling the human vessel. Saving the best for last, God would pour out His Spirit into human hearts, giving them the power and discernment to follow Jesus’ leading throughout their daily lives. Jesus was describing a remarkable new way to live that the Old Covenant pointed to. In this respect, like the mother and daughter of my story, the New Covenant was glorious in comparison to the Old Covenant.
The transformation we can experience by receiving the living Christ into our lives supersedes performing rote religious activities. “Wearing” Christ like an expensive garment by acting upon the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit is how we participate in the divine nature. “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises; in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature…” (2 Peter 1:4)
The imagery of the unshrunk cloth and the new wineskins marked the segue of passage from the old, yet remarkable, promises to their fulfillment of the new life in Christ. Similar to the splendor and excitement someone has by wearing her dream prom dress to the high school dance, we are “clothed” in the radiance of Christ and enjoy His inner presence escorting us through the dance of everyday life.