When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’
And that is what the soldiers did. (John 19.23-24)
It wasn’t the best job to have, watching, waiting whilst a prisoner died. The clock ticked but time dragged. So a game of dice was good and so was dividing up the spoils. But even these rough and ready soldiers recognised a good garment when they saw one. If they ripped it into four – well that would be pointless. So the dice came in handy.
The Greek is helpful here. The word translated as ‘clothes’ means ‘the undergarments’. But the word translated as ‘tunic’ is chiton, a tunic or a coat, an outer garment. The robe has been the subject of devotion and legend. It featured in the 1953 film ‘The Robe’ with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons and the strongest tradition is that it was discovered by St Helena the mother of Constantine in 327 or 328 and was given to the monastery at Trier, where it remains. Other robes are also said to exist.
As with all relics the important thing is not the object but the faith and devotion it engenders. Scripture says there was a robe, it may still exist; but the more important thing is that the one who wore it hung there as people fought over it. He is the one in whom we place our faith.
And the clock kept ticking.
At baptism, as the newly baptised is wrapped in a white robe the priest says
You have been clothed with Christ.
As many as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Make of it your own prayer.