When I was young, right around the time when the Earth’s crust was cooling, people used to have “Come as You Are” parties. For those under 30, I’ll explain. You’d get a phone call and whatever you were wearing at that moment, was what you had to wear to a party that weekend.
Folks would show up in jammies and slippers, in their gardening grubbies, in paint-spattered overalls, and everyone thought this was hilarious. Really, they did. The honor system was, well, honored, and people blushingly wore what you “caught” them in.
See, that was before pajamas, slippers, torn up jeans and ragged tops became the outfit de rigueur for everything from the opera to fancy restaurants. Today you see people in the most casual of attire everywhere – at weddings, at airports, at the courthouse – places where, only a few years ago, a person “wouldn’t be caught dead” in anything but their Sunday best.
Old newsreels of people walking along in any downtown setting show men in fedoras, women in skirts and heels – absolutely no one would consider ratty jeans or drawstring pants acceptable out in public.
Hence the guffaws when we would see one another in clothes old women used to say they “wouldn’t wear to a dog fight.” It wasn’t that everyone was insanely vain, it was that they simply took pride in their appearance and in wearing what suited the occasion. It was a point of etiquette, compliance with the dress code.
And so the “Come as You Are” party, at least as a shocking surprise, has become a thing of a past. But there is still something universally appealing to people everywhere, about a “Candid Camera” moment when friends are suddenly on the spot, captured in an unvarnished moment of absolute honesty, the soul truly bared to others. We all like to see the human, mortal side of people we usually see polished up and formally presented.
That is, unless we are talking about that one event from which no one can return or recover, the one occasion when none of us want to be caught in a dreadful moment of spiritual disarray: Death.
Our final breath can come at any second, as sudden as a phone call, as quick as a camera’s flash. And what will we be wearing, spiritually speaking?
In Alma 41:12-15, Alma teaches his son, Corianton, that we don’t rise after death into a state that is opposite to our nature. It is the ultimate Come as You Are party. If you’re in the throes of addiction or sin, that’s how you will enter the next life. If you’re bitter, unforgiving, judgmental, rude, selfish, or lazy, you will rise with every one of those faults. Death is not a car wash; we don’t come out sparkling clean unless that’s how we went in.
Likewise, if you’ve developed humility, compassion, love, charity, and a host of other wonderful attributes, you will rise with several college credits, so to speak, in your transcript.
Alma then goes on to explain that this is why it’s so important to repent now, not procrastinating until it’s too late. It’s why our church doesn’t believe in deathbed repentance: You really have no opportunity to prove that you honestly have changed your spiritual clothes.
It’s human nature to put things off, especially those tasks that are difficult or uncomfortable. Changing into our “Sunday best” means giving up grudges and bad habits that have become as comfortable as worn PJs and slippers, in some cases. But do you really want that final phone call to come when you’re smeared with mud, or when you’re pressed and clean? There will be no last-minute scrambling to run a comb through your hair – it’s how you are right now that matters.
I still remember my mother saying to me, when I was particularly comfortable in some wrinkly clothes that probably belonged in the hamper, “But what if someone calls and asks you to a Come as You Are’ party?”
Indeed. What if?