2022 12 04: Blessing a Unicorn

Posted on 05 Dec 2022

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

A thousand years ago,  stained glass emerged as one of the important painting techniques practiced in Europe.  Now, that may seem surprising to you to call stained glass a form of painting, but if you look closely at the images surrounding you today, you will notice that the surfaces of each piece of glass are painted in a wide range of dark tones. As for the term “stained glass”, it derives from the silver or yellow stain that was applied to the outside of the glass to increase or decrease the light that would shine through the windows.  As architects in the Middle Ages began to design and build chapels, churches and monasteries, they recognized the potential of this painted glass and so they incorporated into their buildings. The possibilities were both aesthetic and practical.

First and foremost, light was a common spiritual theme in Christian theology. In the book of Genesis God’s first words at creation were, “‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” Jesus identified himself with light, saying, “I am the light of the world.” With this in mind, architects saw windows s the perfect opportunity to highlight a spiritual truth while serving a functional purpose.  Stained glass also provided a certain level of privacy that ordinary clear glass did not.

The most important practical reason for stained glass, however, was the opportunity to educate an illiterate laity who could not read. By looking at the painted scenes in the glass, people could learn about the stories of the Bible and religious teachings.  Depending on the size of the church, windows often told this Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation.

With only 21 windows at Lake of the Isles, it would be hard to imagine a window dedicated o John the Baptist, but perhaps, more surprising is there is also no window dedicated to Christmas or Jesus’ birth.  Instead, we have these two windows which we bless today with incense, word and water which I believe capture the wonder of Christ’s incarnation and proclaim John the Baptist’s message of how we prepare to receive him.

In our first window, you can see the distinct image of a unicorn, and on the left and right side, you see the lily and the rose of Sharon.  The unicorn was a common representation of Jesus in the Renaissance.  Legend held that it could only be captured by a virgin. Interestingly, in a fourteenth-century Latin manual for preachers, Ranulf Higden, a Benedictine monk of Chester in England, instructed preachers on ways to proclaim Jesus in sermons. Ranulf specifically depicts Christ as a fountain, a shepherd, a rock, a lily, a rose, a violet, an elephant, and a unicorn.

In the Bible, the lily of the valley is mentioned as a flower that blooms early in springtime. It also symbolizes the Virgin Mary’s tears, for the tears shed by Mary at the cross of Christ, were believed to have turned into the flower.  The Rose of Sharon represented the Old Testament geology of Christ. The Rose of Sharon is found around the world and plays a special role in South Korea where it is the national flower.

Our first window today is dedicated to the late Korean born teacher ChanSoon Olson, with its citation, “Forever loved by Jim, Jeff and John, A Blossom from Heaven, In Memoriam ChanSoon Olson.”

John the Baptist certainly understood the allegorical imagery of the unicorn, lily and rose, after all, he himself referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God. But how would John want us repent and prepare the way to receive Christ.?  That is after all the heart of this morning’s  gospel, and the central focus of John’s preaching.  I believe that the second window gives us insight into John’s message.

On the left side, we see a hand holding a torch.  It is giving light, guidance and hope. John would have us know that study of scripture leads us closer to the heart of God.  So it should be no surprise, that St. Lake places the words of the prophet Isaiah in John’s mouth.  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  You will never know what God expects of your life, unless you read his holy word.  That is his promise that through study you will learn about God and yourself.  This window has been restored by two life-long learners and the citation on this window reads, “Enlightening through Study.  Dr. Remi and Debby Pizarro.

John the Baptist would have us know that we will not grow in faith and trust in God, if we do not bring ourselves to God in prayer.  At the top of this window are the praying hands of the German Renaissance master Albrecht Durer.  It is perhaps one of the most iconic, and recognizable pieces of Christian art.  It is a powerful testimony to the importance of prayer. The citation reads in German “Der Herr ist Meine Hirte.”  The Lord is my Shepherd. The Formell-Haas Family.

Finally, John the Baptist would want us to know the significance of baptism in the repentance of our sins.  It is what is depicted in the final image of the ewer of baptismal water and the palm branch. Baptism is often seen as a mere ritual cleansing or washing away of sin, and a welcoming rite into the life of the church.  Yet, at a deeper level as a holy mystery, baptism draws  the baptized into promise of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  The palm branches themselves are the symbol of victory and eternal life.  One of the most common passages of scripture spoken at the rite of baptism is the very word which we recite at the beginning of the service of Christian burial. “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

This final window was giving in loving memory of a child who barely experienced life, but who was the teacher to her family. The infant was baptized here and given the promise that she was God’s child always and would not be forgotten   The citation on this window reads, “In Memory of Amara Moon Bracken, Sophie, Kathy and Pat Bracken.”

Every stained-glass window tells a story.  They also serve as the windows through which we see the salvation of God.  Amen

May the peace of Go which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.