Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It may surprise you, but the oldest surviving stained-glass window in a church is not a portrait of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus, nor is it an image of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The oldest window, which was consecrated nearly 1000 years ago in 1065 in the cathedral chapel of Augsburg, Germany, is a depiction of the five Old Testament prophets, David, Jonah, Daniel, Moses, and Hosea. During the medieval period stained glass windows were the primary means to teach the illiterate worshipers the stories of the Bible, and depending on the size of the church, these windows could move from Genesis to Revelation highlighting the most important events in the story of salvation.
While stained glass windows remain one of the Christian church’s most beautiful and lasting treasures, the images themselves today have a slightly different purpose. Since the majority of worshipers can read the Bible, and should, the stained glass windows are there now to inspire and illuminate spiritual truths. Perhaps may have never noticed that all the windows on the south side of the sanctuary are taken from the Old Testament, and all the images on the north side are from the New Testament. While only six windows may seem disproportionate to the size and breath of the Old Testament, these are important images that are to help us understand the faith of the New Testament through the lens of our historic, common roots in Judaism. So my friends, what are the spiritual truths these newly restored windows are meant to teach us? That is what I would like to share with you today.
70 some years ago, when these windows were first created and installed, the congregation could have chosen the stories of creation, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark or the Tower of Babel as themes. Perhaps it was because several church members were seminary professors and they wanted to move right to the heart of the matter, they chose to begin with the Covenant of Abraham. The first lancet in the first window is inspired by Genesis 15, where we find the patriarch Abraham performing a strange Middle Eastern ritual. After God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the grains of the sand upon the shore and as numerous as the stars in the sky, he said, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half.” This was the custom of signing an irrevocable contract, and in Hebrew is referred to as cutting a covenant. Our English phrase, cutting a deal, comes from that practice and language. You keep to your side of the bargain, and I will keep to mine.
Based on what we know of this covenant ritual, what we should expect next is that God and Abraham would take turns walking between the animal halves. But this isn’t what happens. Instead, Abraham falls into a deep sleep, and a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch pass in their place. God alone was committing himself to bear the consequences if Abraham and his descendants when they failed to uphold the covenant. God infinite grace and mercy forgives and frees humanity from condemnation, and God promises to bless humanity in this age and give eternal life in the age to come. And so we trust that the God of Abraham will be faithful, even when we fall short. That is the good news we share every time we gather in worship. The lancet was given by Karen Kleinsteuber in honor of the Honzey-Kleinsteuber Families. The Kleinsteuber Family name is the only family left from the original benefactors 70 years ago.
The second lancet’s story is less obscure. It is the scene of Moses and the Burning Bush which is found in Exodus 3. “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” The burning bush is a powerful symbol representing God’s miraculous energy and sacred light, and his burning heart of purity, love and clarity. It also represents Moses’ reverence and fear before the divine presence. It is there before the burning bush, that Moses is called by God to go Pharaoh, and tell him, “Let my people go.” It is also where God announces to his holy name. As the church, we continue to trust that God is present in mysterious ways. For us it is in the holy sacraments of baptism and holy communion. They are so ever so common, water, and bread and wine, and yet so miraculous. Like Moses before the burning, we too, need to be curious and draw near. This lancet has been given by Ross Bartels and Brenda Weigel with the inscription, “God’s Light is Shining for All to See.”
The third lancet is a puzzle, and it should be. The image depicts Joseph’s vision in Genesis 37. “He dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.” Joseph interpreted the vision correctly. These were the members of his own family who would one day fall down and worship him. His brothers were angered and resented Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Still, Joseph’s dream directed them to the day when his family would come to him and falling down before him unaware in Egypt seeking food in the midst of the great famine. It is also how God would save and preserve the family of Israel. Interestingly, the vision repeats itself in Revelation 12. “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. The nation of Israel is symbolically described as a woman preparing to give birth to the Savior of the world.” The story teaches us that the Savior of the world was foreseen in a vision long, long ago by Joseph, and that the glory of God’s chosen people Israel in Jesus Christ is still the hope and heritage of our families. The lancet has been given by Rick Gripentrog in loving memory of his own family.
We turn now to the next window and first lancet which contains the scroll of God’s written word. The scroll is rich in symbolism. In Judaism it often represents the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. Most often it symbolizes the entire “Word of God” as well as a symbol of life, time and wisdom. The word is central to our worship service every time we gather. The Prophet Isaiah describes the power of the spoken word which is always active and changing lives. “So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the one who meditates on the word day and night.” This window has been given by Bernie and Michelle Reisberg with the familiar inscription from Psalm 119, “Your Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet.”
The central image on the next window is the Ark of the Covenant. For anyone who has seen the movie, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know the image. Regretfully, the Ark was lost in 587 BC during the Babylonians destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. For the ancient Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant was a powerful symbol of God’s presence and his covenant with Abraham. Wherever the people wandered, God was intimately near. The Ark itself contained the holiest of Jewish relics, the tablets of the Ten Commandment, a pot of manna and the rod of Aaron. When the Temple was standing, the Ark was sheltered beyond a curtain in the Holy of Holies. Once a year on Yom Kippur, the chief entered the Holy of Holies, to offer a sacrifice on the Mercy Seat of God for the atonement of sins. The top of the Ark or Kipporet was made of gold, and it was where the blood was spattered. In Herod’s Temple, there was no longer an Ark, but a raised platform, where the ark would have stood. The curtain however remained. The Ark of the Covenant still reminds us God’s ongoing presence and that holy space is important to the people of God. For there church, however, there is no longer a curtain separating us from God’s mercy seat. For Christ as the great high priest, has offered the sacrifice of his blood once and for all. The window has been given by the Kavoukjian family In Memoriam Merton and Mardelle Schaar.
Finally, we turn to the Menorah, the seven-branched candelabra that is described in the Old Testament as having been used both in the Tabernacle and in the Temple in Jerusalem. The menorah symbolizes the seven days of the week, with the center light representing God and the Sabbath day of rest. Since ancient times, it has served as a symbol representing the Jewish people and Judaism. It eventually became the State of Israel’s official emblem after its founding in 1948.
Of course, the primary function of the menorah as a lamp is to give light, but it’s shape is also intriguing. Made from pure gold, the menorah’s seven branches resemble a tree. In Jewish tradition, it is likened to the Tree of Life from the creation story. For the church, the Menorah is reminder of Jesus’ own words, “I am the true vine, you are the branches.” We can only be a fruitful branch when we are connected to the vine. Thus, the function and form of the menorah illustrates two wonderful, spiritual truths. First, just as the menorah was light for a wandering people in the wilderness, we are called to be a light in the world to those wandering in darkness today. And second, just as God planted a vineyard and vine to bear fruit, we are planted and called to be a living presence bearing the sweetest fruit in a desperately broken and hungry world. The Menorah window has been given In love and Faith by Mark and Robin Bloom.
My friends, themes and images from the Old Testament echo throughout the New Testament. They find new meaning and new direction in the life of Jesus Christ. And so, as we bless these windows over the next few weeks, may we discover anew the love and mercy of our God who made an irrevocable covenant with Abraham and let us be reminded that this is our common faith and heritage. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.