Purple always has been my favorite color. When I chose purple as a tiny girl, I didn’t know its significant association with piety, royalty, wounded U.S. soldiers or even Woman’s Missionary Union. Yes, according to the Hunt Library and Archives, purple is WMU’s official color. Perhaps I should have chosen college by color and attended Hardin-Simmons University or, more likely, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, since they offered me a scholarship. Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to sing the UMHB senior/alumni song, “Up with the Purple.”
The Bible contains more than 50 references to the color. Several weeks ago, we studied Lydia in Sunday school and asked the children to wear purple. We took red and blue food colors, dropping them into water until the 2-year-olds exclaimed, “Purple!” I was older than that, maybe 4 or 5, when I learned the first Bible verse I remember memorizing in Creola Phelps’ Beginners’ Training Union. “Thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron” (Exodus 28:2). Daddy often teased that my first verse should have been more spiritual.
Priests and purple (Exodus 39)
I had no idea Aaron’s clothing included purple. Exodus 39 explains the Lord commanded Moses to weave priestly garments of blue, purple and scarlet yarn “for ministering in the sanctuary.” For the ephod, he added threads cut from thin sheets of hammered gold. According to the Baptists’ priesthood of the believer doctrine, we recognize each of us has the responsibility of symbolically wearing those priestly garments.
Aaron’s purple reminds us we are God’s priests, called to be his messengers in the world, responsible for bearing witness to the heavenly Father and demonstrating his love by ministering to others in Jesus’ name.
Royalty and purple (Mark 15:17; Esther 8; Daniel 5)
Royalty chose to wear the color because of its cost. To make the precious purple dye, thousands of tiny sea snails had to be collected by hand and prepared in a lengthy and expensive process. The Gospel of Mark indicates Roman soldiers dressed Jesus, our Savior and King, in purple.
But kings also rewarded those rendering exceptional service with the color. In Esther 8, King Xerxes honors Mordecai for foiling the plot against him, and when Mordecai leaves the king’s presence, he wears royal garments, “a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen.” In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar clothes Daniel in purple as a reward for translating God’s condemning message after the king serves wine in gold goblets taken from the temple.
The purple of Mordecai and Daniel calls us to exceptional service for our King.
Lydia and purple (Acts 16)
In Acts 16, we find the story of Lydia, a woman from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. We don’t know if she actually wore purple, although artists’ renderings, including the one shown our 2-year-olds, depict her that way. However, we do know she was a disseminator of purple, and “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
Lydia’s purple calls us to open our hearts and disseminate the Lord’s message to those who haven’t heard.
Dreams and purple
Each time I opened my Internet connection the week following the passing of Baylor’s School of Social Work dean, “Remembering Dr. Diana R. Garland” appeared on the screen. Dressed appropriately in purple, Diana’s smile reminded me of her life, her dreams and a conversation at the April Baptist librarians’ and archivists’ meeting in Nashville.
The Tennessee “Dream Act” had passed the state senate. That day, although the House voted 49-47 in favor, the legislation failed by a single vote to obtain the needed 50 ballots. The students who worked and lobbied so hard to realize their dreams appeared on television as articulate, professional, intelligent and heartbroken. Mostly, the young women and men were devastated because one legislator they counted on chose to miss the vote under pressure from party leaders.
As we discussed the issue, another librarian and I agreed that in this day of great division in our churches, in our cities and in our country between black and white, haves and have-nots, and red and blue, we need more purple. We need drop upon drop upon drop of red added to drop upon drop upon drop of blue, blended together to create purple, a precious color of love as God opens our hearts to share his message of grace and unity.
Up with the purple.
Kathy Hillman is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She also is director of Baptist collections, library advancement and the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.