In reading the 4 gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion last week, I rediscovered an interesting tidbit of information: the gospels differ in describing the robe that was placed on Jesus after his trial.  According to Mark and John, it was purple, Matthew says it was scarlet, and Luke simply describes the robe as “elegant”. 

Since royal robes in Jesus’ day were usually purple or scarlet, it makes sense that the Roman soldiers would mock as Jesus as King of the Jews by robing him in either of those colors.  I don’t mind that the gospels disagree on the color of the robe, as long as they don’t describe it as hot pink or grabber orange (the color of my first car, a very used 1969 Mustang).  It’s just that I’ve always thought of the robe as purple.

I admit that I have never owned a purple robe, although I do wear purple stoles in Lent.  One of our clergy colleagues did confess to wearing a green robe on Palm Sunday, however, and it wasn’t because he was attempting to match the green palms.  It had to do with a certain Michigan basketball team that was playing the next day for the NCAA national championship.

Colors are more important than most of us realize.  In fact, when people are exposed to certain colors, physiological and psychological changes occur.  Don’t you just love the soothing music and the changing shades of blue, green, red and purple on the walls of the walkway between terminals A, B and C at Detroit Metro airport?  An older version of our parsonage standards recommended that house colors be neutral in order to appeal to a wide range of pastors and families who might live there.  Our daughter, Talitha, a graduate student in the business school at the University of Michigan, has been advised to wear suits that are black, dark blue or gray, conservative colors which convey trust and dependability. 

The Color Marketing Group is an international non-profit organization of 1,000 color experts and designers that forecasts color trends 1 to 3 years in advance for industry and business.  Describing color trends for 2009, executive director Jaime Stephens says, “We’re finding comfort in colors that are familiar, and yet, at the same time, we’re embracing colors that make us happy — especially as accents.”

Purple emerged as a “hot fashion” election color last fall (red plus blue equals purple) and is the “must have” color in 2009.  Blue is replacing green as an environmentally friendly color and indicates stability.  Cooled-down grays and grayish browns symbolize our yearning for classic colors in an economically challenged time.  Yellow, an accent color, gives us energy, reassurance and hope as we re-build the economy. Red continues to be a power color: wear red if you want other people to remember what you say or if you are Tiger Woods on Sunday at the Masters.  White is appropriate in all finishes and textures and represents our desire for purity and integrity, whether in government, business or our personal life. 

Contrast today’s use of color with color symbolism in the Bible.

  • Purple was used for sacred hangings and represented wealth. 
  • Blue was a heavenly color and was also used liturgically. 
  • Black was the color of death, disease, famine and sorrow.
  • Gray denoted old age. 
  • White denoted purity and righteousness. 
  • Green was a sign of the earth, especially plant life.
  • Scarlet represented sin and was used in fine materials. 
  • Red symbolized blood and war. 

Incidentally, the only other color mentioned in any of the Holy Week and Easter narratives is white.  Matthew, Mark and John all describe the angel, young man or men at the empty tomb as dressed in white, while Luke says that the men wore “dazzling” clothes. 

What about colors in the church?  If you don’t think color matters in the life of the church, then you’ve never served on the committee to choose the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.  It was a great relief when a church I once served changed the color of the sanctuary carpet from bright red to a more comforting blue.  I really enjoy nurseries and children’s classrooms that are painted with colorful murals and biblical stories.  Youth rooms often have bold colors that appeal to teenagers.  Of course, the greatest color challenge in the church is a practical one: selecting floor coverings that will cover up spilled red juice, green jello marks, coffee stains, and ground in chocolate cake.

Are you intentional about the colors you use in your print or email newsletter, web site and advertising?  According to various marketing studies, 

  • Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent.
  • Color improves readership as much as 40 percent.
  • Color accelerates learning from 55 to 78 percent.
  • Color ads are read up to 42 percent more than similar ads in black and white.
  • Color can be up to 85 percent of the reason people decide to buy.

Most important, however, the visual impact of color can draw us into a deeper encounter with Christ.  Yesterday the church I attended had dozens of brightly colored flowers in the chancel area in addition to white lilies.  You couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty and promise of new life symbolized in these flowers.  A black cloth draped over the cross on Good Friday invites us into the crucifixion story in the same way that red streamers hanging from the ceiling remind us of the tongues of fire on Pentecost.  Luke was on to something, wasn’t he?  I suspect Luke didn’t name the color of Jesus’ robe or the clothes of the angels at the tomb because he was more interested in describing the effect of the clothes on the observer: “elegant” and “dazzling” says it all, doesn’t it? 

The Color Marketing Group’s slogan is “Color Sells, and the Right Colors Sell Better”.  I invite you to take a fresh look at the use of color in your congregation. 

  • Can you make the church more attractive, inviting and appealing through color?
  • How can the effective use of color enhance spirituality in your congregation?

I am not a color consultant.  I don’t pay much attention to the color of the clothes I wear.  Nor have I ever been color analyzed, which was all the rage a few years back.  I guess that’s why I’ve never been described as “elegant” or “dazzling.”  Maybe if I drove a 2010 Grabber Orange Mustang instead of a dull red “on its last legs” 1999 Mercury Mystique, I’d upgrade my color image.  Watch for my car at your church conference this fall!

Blessings, Laurie

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