Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
If we were marking the stories from the Bible successively, we should have begun with story of God’s Covenant with Abraham on the south side of the sanctuary, but instead, we began on the north side with story of Jesus’ birth and incarnation. In the first window we dedicated in December, you can see the distinct image of a unicorn surrounded by flowers. This was a was a common allegorical representation of Jesus in the Renaissance period- a fabled unicorn in a flowering garden. Today we turn to the two windows on the opposite end of the wall portraying the story of Jesus’ passion and death on the tree of the cross and the wonders of his resurrection.
The Passion Window, which is the second from the end, contains three important images, Judas Iscariot’s leather pouch, Jesus’ crown of thorns, and the cross and Lamb of God. Judas’ leather pouch containing the 30 pieces of silver, seen in the first panel, has more than a literal meaning. The phrase “30 pieces of silver” has come to be used to describe a price at which people sell out. In our not so tame political arena, the phrase is used to accuse politicians in the opposing party of selling out their principles or ideals. “30 piece of silver” is the ultimate a symbol of betrayal. It is not surprising that the giver of this panel is anonymous. No one wants to be remembered for betraying Jesus. It is why the inscription below instead depicts the over-arching theme of the whole window, with the opening words from John 3:16. “For God so loved the world.”
The crown of thorns in the center panel is rich in imagery. If you look closely, it is actually more than the crown. It is complete summary of the cruelty inflicted on Jesus on that Holy, Good Friday. The crown serves as an instrument of the passion employed by Jesus’ captors both to cause him pain and to mock his claim of authority. Woven into the crown are the three nails that were driven into Jesus’ hand and feet. Within the crown are the letters INRI. They are the letters frequently found on the top of crosses and are straight out of the Bible. They represent Pontius Pilate’s charge and justification for the crucifixion. “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews) You may recall from scripture that the charge was written in Hebrew and Greek as well, but since the Catholic Church was initially located in the Roman Empire and Latin was the “official” language of the Roman Church, the Latin INRI became favored over the Greek or Hebrew words for the inscription. Poignantly, the abbreviation reminds us that Pilate’s charge, while meant to mock Jesus, was true: Jesus truly was and is our king, who came to save the world from sin and death. The window was restored anonymously and dedicated, With Thanks to Pastor Arden and Janna Haug. For us, this is both an honor and profound gift for which we are greatly humbled.
In the final panel of the Passion Window we can see both the image of the empty cross and the Lamb of God. Our American Protestant sensibilities might be offended if the stained-glass window included a crucifix, but the window includes two subtle, but graphic elements that could easily be overlooked as mere decoration, so you must looked closely. In the Middle Ages, it was told that when Jesus was crucified, two birds came to perch on his cross. One was a dove, the other a magpie. The dove grieved for Jesus, but the magpie did not. The two birds could be likened to the thieves who were crucified on either side of the dying Jesus. The penitent thief was given the promise of Paradise, much as the dove is blessed; from that time onward, however, magpies were disdained in European culture as cursed and evil. The second detail is linking of the Cross and the Lamb together. Of course, we regularly sing the liturgical hymn of “O Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away away the sin of the world,” but this particular image is the oldest representations of the crucifixion. Before Jesus was depicted as a man nailed to the cross in the sixth century, the figure of the Lamb carrying a cross and standing on a mount was the sign of Christ crucified. This window has been given by Mike Kavoukjian in memory of his Norwegian grandparents Albert and Hanna Edvardsen Oines.
We move now to the Resurrection Window. The important images here may be a little more obscure, perhaps as unusual as the Unicorn in the Garden, but they are closely tied to St. John’s understanding of Christ’s resurrection. Let us begin with the Easter hymn Alleluia depicted in the first panel. Alleluia which means God be praised, is emblazoned over an open window with a light burning in it. Today, candles shining in windows is a common Christmas custom. On a cold and dark winter night, a candle burning in the window of a home can be a lovely sight. We associate it with warmth and hospitality. Oddly, the custom is only a few generations old and it was originated as religious statement brought to America by the Irish. In the 1600s, Irish Catholics were persecuted for their faith by the Protestant Crown, and Catholic priests were banned from serving their parishes. During this time, Irish Catholic families would display lit candles in their windows during the Christmas season to secretly invite a passing priest into a family’s home to say Christmas Mass. The custom became a frequent scene in colonial America. There is interesting connection to St. John’s gospel. Jesus’ disciples were hidden behind closed doors out of fear of their neighbors on that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to them. Still they were invited to open their doors to let their light shine and proclaim that Christ is risen. Alleluia! The window has been given by the Steve and Paula Hoyt family in honor of Paula’s parent George C and Niki Kouris.
The center panel needs more explanation. It is the celebration of the Jewish festival of first fruits known as Shavuot. The day after Passover begins a celebration of fifty days for the offering of the first grains of the harvest. In Biblical times, farmers loaded up their wagons with milk and grains and journeyed with them to Jerusalem for a burnt offering in the Temple. In the panel you can see the spokes of the wheel on the wagon, and perhaps the flames consuming the offering. St. Paul likened Jesus’ resurrection to the celebration of the first fruits in 1 Corinthians 15, where he writes, that Jesus who was raised from the dead is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus himself says, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This portion of the resurrection window is the promise of a new life after death. Jesus is the first fruit for those who have died, and he will raise them up as well. This panel has been given by Mark Duff and Michelle McCreery in honor of the women who first shared the gospel with them. This sentiment is captured in the words of the hymn “Now Thank We All Our God.” Who from our mother’s arms has blessed us on our way.
We turn now to the final panel. Although, as a church we celebrate the Giving on the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost 50 day after Easter, Jesus blurs these lines in St. John’s gospel. There he appears to the disciples on Easter and breathes on them the Holy Spirit. The seven flames which come down from the dove representing the Holy Spirit, are first spoken by the Prophet Isaiah. They are the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and piety, and spirit of the fear of the Lord. It is fitting that the last panel portrays the gifts we need to let our lights shine, and to live out our lives as God’s first fruits as an Easter people. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach used a simple acronym S. G. D. at the end of all his musical scores, for the Latin words, Soli Deo Gloria. Solely to the glory of God This window has been given by Kathy and Bill Fredell.
2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed
Martin Luther’s Explanation
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity,
and also a true man, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord.
He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being.
He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death,
and from the power of the devil,
not with gold or silver but with his holy,
precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.
He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.
This is most certainly true.
O Lord God, the whole world is filled with the radiance of your glory: Accept
our offering of these window which we now dedicate to you for the adornment
of this place and the inspiration of your people. Grant that as the light shines
through them in many colors, so our lives may show forth the beauty of your
manifold gifts of grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.