United Church of Christ

Sermon Seeds May 5 2019

Third Sunday of Easter Year C

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Lectionary citations:
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Worship resources for the Third Sunday of Easter Year C can be found at Worship Ways


Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Additional reflection on John 21:1-19 for Creation Care by Professor Laurel Koepf Taylor

Focus Theme:
Turning Point of Transformation

Reflection:
by Kathryn M. Matthews

Most of us know the story of Saul, persecutor of the early church, who was knocked to the ground, blinded by a bright light, and addressed by the risen Christ Himself. (According to later Christian artists, he was thrown from his horse; John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan Reed's book, In Search of Paul, provides a delightful interpretation of this addition to the story.) Was that a call from God, or was it a conversion experience?

The scholars may disagree on the answer to that question, but in any case, most of us "ordinary" Christians go through our lives without ever being literally knocked off our horses and blinded by a light, in our conversion or our call experiences. We mostly go from day to day, year to year, sometimes searching, sometimes convinced, but rarely experiencing dramatic revelations that change the course of our lives, let alone the life of the whole church, as the experience of Saul did. And yet we can find ourselves here, in the story of Saul's transformation from persecutor to apostle.

Changing direction

The episode of Saul's story in this week's passage is a reversal of sorts, but his new direction can be seen as consistent with his past as a religious scholar and a faithful son of Israel. Later in the Book of Acts, he boasts of being a Pharisee; he does not repudiate his past, who he is or who he has been.

Rather, his vision is opened up to new understandings and new relationship (and new work!). In fact, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe his conversion as within his own tradition, "from one way of being Jewish to another way of being Jewish, from being a Pharisaic Jew to being a Christian Jew" who "saw his Judaism anew in the light of Jesus" (The First Paul).

The influence of our teachers

In Acts 22:3, Paul also describes himself as a student of Gamaliel, whom we met last week during the controversy in the council in Jerusalem over what to do with these troublemakers, Peter and the rest, who are preaching Christ Jesus.

Gamaliel could be seen in that passage as a voice of tolerance and humility, so it's intriguing to consider how his influence on Saul might have helped to shape who he became as Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and to prepare him for his important ministry.

Meeting Saul again, on different terms

We've met Saul before this ninth chapter in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, of course, but only briefly, and not in a good way. At the end of chapter seven, the men who were stoning Stephen (after he delivered a particularly confrontational sermon) "laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul" (7:58), and chapter eight begins by noting Saul's approval of the killing of Stephen.

As resistance and even persecution of Jesus' followers heated up, Saul participated enthusiastically: "ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison" (8:3). Luke spends the rest of chapter eight telling stories about the apostles as they preached and baptized and laid hands on people, as they drove out demons and cured "those who were paralyzed or lame"; no wonder "there was great joy in that city" (8:8).

"Breathing threats and murder"

All of this joy, however, and all of this success, evidently worked Saul up into a frenzy, for chapter nine opens with him "breathing threats and murder" (9:1). What a phrase to describe a future follower of Jesus! Saul obtained authorization from the leaders in Jerusalem to hunt down the followers of the Way as they spread their message up the road to Damascus, to "bind" them, and drag them back to Jerusalem.

John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed describe this kind of "zeal" as "religious vigilantism" that "allows any outraged person" to take justice and, well, righteousness, too, it seems, into their own hands (In Search of Paul). I wonder if the same kind of zeal has contributed to the vitriol, for example, of our present political life, nationally and internationally; judging "religious fanatics" long ago and far away is not nearly as helpful as thinking about our own way of living what we believe, in today's world and our own time.

Zeal and violence

So we can assume that Saul intended that the apostles would suffer the same fate as Stephen, and we grieve that this story about religious people - filled with "zeal as violence," as Crossan and Reed describe it, and yet seeing that as faithfulness - is true in every age.

It's there, on the road to Damascus, that Saul's story takes a dramatic turn, and even today people refer to an experience of conversion, or call, or illumination, as a "road to Damascus" experience.

What happens next...

The lectionary passage may technically end at verse six, but commentators make a convincing case to stay with Saul on his journey. The lectionary seems to leave us hanging there, wondering what will happen next to Saul, because most of us remember that he's now blind, as well as lying there in the dust and dirt of the road.

He must appear quite vulnerable, really, transformed from the threatening, powerful persecutor to a man in profound need and helplessness. God is at work here, though: the living Christ is not simply intervening to protect the apostles by deterring Saul from his mission.

The voice that Saul hears gives him instructions right after that poignant question, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (v. 4b), and we continue past verse 6 to hear what happens next, because we know that God has big plans for Paul and for this fledgling church (see Charles Campbell, The Lectionary Commentary: The OT and Acts). With God, the picture is always big, very big, and each one of us is precious within it.

Led by the hand toward reconciliation

Ironically, Paul finds himself - the strong young man who had felt powerful to the point of menacing - meekly led by the hand into the city of Damascus, and going without food or water for three days; he must have been quite weak, and quite a sight, by then.

How much of a threat could he have posed to the disciples at that point? And yet, when Ananias, one of the disciples in Damascus, had his own experience with a vision and voice, he did not react positively to the command to go to Saul and lay hands on him.

Right to hesitate

We can understand why Ananias, knowing Paul's track record, might say, "Wait. What?" He might even want to whine a bit about the unfairness, and the risk, of what he's being asked to do.

As Donald Davis notes, "In case God has overlooked Saul's atrocities, [Ananias] takes occasion to issue a brief reminder. Ananias is not the last believer who has seen fit to keep God up to date" (The Storyteller's Companion to the Bible: The Acts of the Apostles). (You know, just in case God has forgotten something...)

Grace at work all around

But then Ananias surprises us, once he answers God's call, and goes the extra nine yards, calling Saul "Brother." Did his heart soften, perhaps, when he saw how weak and pitiful - how human - Saul looked? Perhaps such mercy helped shape Paul's future ministry and theology.

And here we might find ourselves in the story as well, because Charles Campbell says that Ananias is "an 'ordinary' Christian" who demonstrates "extraordinary courage and faithfulness," the kind of courage and faithfulness we ordinary Christians may need in order to forgive and to exercise compassion toward our "enemies" and those who have harmed us (The Lectionary Commentary: The OT and Acts).

Robert Wall also emphasizes the power of forgiveness in this story, noting that we first met Saul at the stoning of Stephen, who prayed (like Jesus) that those who killed him would be forgiven: "God's steady perspective on human destiny is that Saul is a forgiven man….[and] his stunning turn to Jesus somewhere on the Great North Road cashes in a faithful Stephen's promissory note" (Feasting on the Word Year C). A lovely, and ironic, twist to the story.

The way forward

Where did Saul go with all of this? He followed "the way forward" to get baptized, and to share communion, and to be "ordained," and to live his life in the company of others who followed the Way of Jesus. Borg and Crossan speak of Paul being filled with the light of Jesus and the Spirit that opened his eyes and gave him "a new identity…a new community, and way of being" (The First Paul). And this new community would include - with Paul's tireless efforts - the most unlikely people.

Perhaps the most dramatic sign of Saul's conversion is his passionate commitment to sharing the gospel with the Gentiles. Crossan and Reed observe that Saul's conversion isn't from one religion to another. He has a different kind of change of heart and mind, converting from passionately, even violently, opposing the radical inclusion of pagans to becoming instead the greatest proponent of including them (In Search of Paul). How ironic!

A communal experience

Scholars remark on the importance of that big picture, of the wider community, and not just Saul's private experience: Charles Campbell observes that Paul devoted the rest of his life to establishing and nurturing churches rather than focusing on the conversion of individual people (The Lectionary Commentary: The OT and Acts).

In a time when many Christians focus on evangelizing individuals instead of building up churches, this is a provocative comment, and may offer us a needed course correction for our shared life as a community of faith.

Sometimes a call is a conversion

A call is a call, and a conversion is a conversion, but often they are combined in the same experience. Whether or not our faith experiences are typically accompanied by a dramatic sound-and-light show, we receive the same call that Saul did on that dusty road to Damascus.

After looking honestly at our past and repenting our sin, we are called, Paul Walaskay writes, "to turn our faces toward God's future….[and] enter the process of completing God's joy by expanding God's love in the world" (Acts, Westminster Bible Companion).

Seeing things God's way

Luke's version of Paul's experience on that road to Damascus (the first of three accounts of it in Acts) vividly illustrates how God finds a way to reach us, even if we have to be stopped in our tracks and knocked off our own high horse.

It's not so hard, then, to believe that God will find ways to enter quietly into our lives and our hearts, turning our attention away from old angers, prejudices, and loss, old convictions and conclusions written on the stone of our hearts and minds, and will open our hearts to God's way of seeing things, open our hearts to God's future of hope, a bright shining light.

It's always about God

If we feel that such a quiet experience isn't as good as those we read about in books – the Bible and others as well, Joseph Harvard urges us not to give in to a sense of "faith inferiority," for "[t]he main character is this and every conversion story is God." In so many conversion stories, including the ones found in Acts, like those surrounding the story of Saul, "God touches the lives of unlikely people from diverse backgrounds to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth" (Feasting on the Word Year C).

That includes you and me, and some folks we'd rather not think about, if we're honest. Surely God can't use them, we might think, but God, of course, surprises us in the most delightful ways.

Standing at a crossroads

And Stephen Jones reminds us of our need to reflect on our lives, to look back on the times when "we can identify the hand of God upon our lives…a light that turns on within us." At those times, "We stood at a crossroads. We had a choice." But Jones is particularly insightful when he observes that "God was not 'done' with Paul once he first saw the light. Converted, he remained stubborn and blind. Converted, we remain stubborn and blind."

And so, Jones urges us to "ask how our cultural bias is blinding us, causing us to 'breathe threats and destruction' where God is calling us to breathe life and invitation" (Feasting on the Word Year C).

God's grace is amazing

We might remember, then, another historical call/conversion story familiar to many of us, that of John Newton, the slave-trader who later became a pastor and hymn writer. Newton is famous, of course, for composing "Amazing Grace," but most of us have at least a vague recollection of a dramatic conversion at sea, after which Newton stopped participating in the great evil of the slave trade.

We might think that Newton, like Paul, had an experience very unlike our own, a sudden, drastic turnaround in the most remarkable of circumstances. Closer study, however, reveals that Newton took his time with this turnaround, and continued his slave-trading even after it dawned on him that God was at the center of his life.

We live our lives in circumstances that may be dramatic at moments but are mostly everyday and common, and God's amazing grace is present and sufficient in every one. And even if it takes us some time, God is with us all the way, in every moment of our lives.

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The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in 2016 after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.

You're invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.

For further reflection:

Plato, 5th century B.C.E.
"Conversion is not implanting eyes, for they exist already; but giving them a right direction, which they have not."

Madeleine L'Engle, 20th century
"Conversion for me was not a Damascus Road experience. I slowly moved into an intellectual acceptance of what my intuition had always known."

D.H. Lawrence, 20th century
"I believe that [one] is converted when first [one] hears the low, vast murmur of life, of human life, troubling [one's] hitherto unconscious self."

George Sand, 19th century
"Once my heart was captured, reason was shown the door, deliberately and with a sort of frantic joy. I accepted everything, I believed everything, without struggle, without suffering, without regret, without false shame. How can one blush for what one adores?"

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 20th century
"The world does not consist of 100 percent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so."
and
"Every story of conversion is a story of blessed defeat."

Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, 21st century
"When one of my friends becomes a Christian, which happens about every 10 years because I am a sheep about sharing my faith, the experience is euphoric. I see in their eyes the trueness of the story."

Bede Griffiths, 20th century
"It is no longer a question of a Christian going about to convert others to the faith, but of each one being ready to listen to the other and so to grow together in mutual understanding."

Additional Reflection on John 21:1-19 for Creation Care:
by Professor Laurel Koepf Taylor

How is God made known in your life? Throughout both testaments, God communicates in a variety of ways. We know that the Bible tells us of revelation through dreams and visions, through prophets and sacred texts. Yet all too often we forget that the Bible also attests to the natural world as a source of divine encounter. The Psalms describe creation's active participation in divine praise. The book of Deuteronomy calls elements of nature as witnesses in the covenant between God and humankind in 30:19-20. The prophets, particularly the book of Joel, describe the land's role in expressing divine pleasure with its inhabitants as well as displeasure when its inhabitants do not respect God and one another. In this way, God's creation is one of the most tangible ways in which humanity, both in the world of the Bible and today, can experience the divine.

In reading these texts, we should remember the ancient context out of which our sacred texts arise. The ancient agricultural economy necessitated ongoing interaction with plants and animals for survival. The precarious climate of the Levant (modern day Israel/Palestine) made weather patterns highly significant events for food cultivation. The necessity of human and animal labor, as well as the thriving of plant life, made fertility and reproduction urgent. Each of these elements of creation contributes still to human thriving, but often remains beyond our awareness for those with careers outside of agriculture. In the biblical world, however, the connection between God's creation and sustenance is visceral. It is a daily interaction with God and with the divine role in creating and sustaining life. Within the world of the Bible, the Creator communicates through creation.

When we hold the ongoing theme of revelation through creation in our awareness as we read, it is easier to note its presence where it is less obvious, as in today's Gospel lesson from the book of John. In this narrative, we see the familiar post-resurrection theme in which the disciples do not recognize Jesus. Indeed, the resurrection narrative in the previous chapter of John's Gospel features Mary Magdalene's encounter with the risen Christ, in which she believes him to be a gardener until he speaks to her. Looking beyond its immediate literary context, John 21:1-19 bears striking similarities to the Road to Emmaus narrative in Luke 24:13-35. Each features a small gathering of disciples and takes place soon after the resurrection event within the narrative. Each text also ends with Jesus and the disciples sharing a meal. These disciples encounter but do not recognize Jesus until he has performed a particular action, but the actions he performs so as to reveal his identity differ in the two narratives, highlighting nuances in the meanings of the two texts. Whereas Jesus' breaking and blessing bread opens the disciples' eyes in the Lukan post-resurrection encounter, Jesus' relationship with and resultant knowledge of the behavior of fish makes his identity known to his disciples in the Johannine narrative. When he tells the disciples to cast their net on the right side in 21:6, they do not yet know who he is. His own words and actions do not reveal his identity as the breaking and blessing of bread did in Luke 24. Rather, the fish, by filling the net in uncanny numbers, reveal Christ's presence to the disciples. Only then do they recognize him. Only after they have recognized him does he break bread with them.

John's Gospel, widely recognized to be the latest of the four, responds to the Synoptics in its telling of events. It highlights the fish and their action rather than Jesus' act of blessing and breaking bread. Knowing the theology of the Gospel of John, this is certainly not a valuing of fish over Christ, but is instead a narrative emphasis upon creation and Jesus' close relationship to it as an identifying characteristic. John's version of the post-resurrection encounter in which the disciples do not recognize Jesus also repurposes the miraculous catch of fish that launches his ministry in Luke 5:1-11. The author of the Gospel makes the miraculous catch a feature of a resurrection appearance rather than a call for disciples to follow the embodied Christ. In doing so, the relationship between Jesus and the natural world becomes the way in which disciples past and present recognize the resurrected Christ. It communicates that Christ is in relationship with creation, that the Jesus who walked and worked many years ago, but who is alive and acting today is made known through the natural world that surrounds us all.

The relationship between Jesus and nature that we see exhibited in John 21 highlights the significance of Jesus' command in verses 15-17 to "feed my lambs." It is important enough to ask three times, "Do you love me," and upon receiving an affirmative response insist upon care for those Christ cares for. They are "lambs," animals who are both a part of and as vulnerable as creation itself. We know that many people among us are vulnerable, but the natural metaphor, immediately following the revelation of the resurrected Christ through nature, serves as a reminder that all creation is vulnerable and in need of our care. John's Jesus goes on to remind the disciples that those who are powerful now will not always be so, "When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." The universal experience of vulnerability at one time or another motivates our care for others when we are in the position to do so, and for creation at all times.

It is no wonder then that we know Jesus as the Lamb. It is no wonder that the book of Revelation, which comes to us from the same Johannine community, describes "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea" (v. 13) singing to the Lamb as a powerful affirmation. These texts communicate that Jesus continues the longstanding biblical tradition of a close divine relationship with creation. They act as powerful reminders that we are but one element of God's created world, and as invitations to enter into relationship with God and with the resurrected Christ through our care for the natural world. If we wish to serve God, we must feed the lambs among us. We must serve one another. Jesus' closeness to creation reminds us that "one another" cannot be limited to humankind. If we are to follow in Christ's example, we too must be in relationship with "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea."

The Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.


Lectionary texts

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."

[The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God."]

Psalm 30

I will extol you,
   O God,
for you have drawn me up,
   and did not let my foes rejoice
over me.

O God my God,
   I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.

O God, you brought up my soul
   from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those
   gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to God,
   O you God's faithful ones,
and give thanks
   to God's holy name.

For God's anger
   is but for a moment;
God's favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may linger
   for the night,
but joy comes
   with the morning.

As for me,
   I said in my prosperity,
"I shall never be moved."

By your favor,
   O God,
you had established me
   as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
   I was dismayed.

To you, O God,
   I cried,
and to you
   I made supplication:

"What profit is there in my death,
   if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
   Will it tell of your faithfulness?

"Hear, O God,
   and be gracious to me!
O God,
   be my helper!"

You have turned my mourning
   into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
   and clothed me with joy,

so that my soul may praise you
   and not be silent.
O God my God,
   I will give thanks
to you forever.

Revelation 5:11-14

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders;
they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
    "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
         to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
         and honor and glory and blessing!"

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
    "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
         be blessing and honor and glory
         and might forever and ever!"

And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.

John 21:1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."


Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:blains@ucc.org)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ

(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: "Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place" in Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)  

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about "traditional" colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.

The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.

Before the Reformation's iconoclasm, and Trent's code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of "best," "second best," and "everyday" — not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the "best" vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got "second best" or "everyday."