Yesterday afternoon, Tara and I had the opportunity to sing in a “choral evensong,” a formal worship service in which most of the service is sung by a choir and accompanied by a pipe organ. This took place at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bay City, a church where we have sung on several occasions in the past few years. It’s a beautiful historic building with a high vaulted ceiling and wonderful acoustics. Prominent throughout the sanctuary, like many buildings of that period, are several stained glass windows.
I found myself looking up at one of these stained glass windows at the end of this evensong service. We choir members had walked down from the choir loft to the back of the sanctuary, where we sat to listen to the last piece of music from the pipe organ. As I looked up at the stained glass, I was amazed by the beauty of what I saw: not just the picture displayed in the window, but the way the glass shined in the sun. Here is something completely material – a window comprised of many different shapes and colors of glass – that shines with the light of something beyond itself, something immaterial. The beauty of the window cannot be seen completely until the light shines through the glass.
It strikes me that this is the way our spiritual lives function, as well. Here we are, as completely human beings comprised of many different shapes and colors, the unique and varied aspects of our personalities, interests, abilities, and relationships. But our full beauty cannot be seen completely until the light of Jesus Christ shines through us.
Jesus said that a thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus himself came so that we might have life – even abundant life (John 10:10). When his light, his life, his love, his peace, and his truth shine into and through our lives, we can catch a glimpse of this beautiful, abundant life. It’s a life centered on the kingdom of God. It’s a life that draws meaning and purpose from the relationship between divine and human, between God and us. It’s a life that finds the answers to our deepest questions in the very being of God, the ever-living one.
On a physical level, stained glass windows give us a profound metaphor for our spiritual lives. The glass is in contact with light from the all-powerful sun. The glass absorbs some wavelengths of that sunlight, which affects the glass by making it warmer. But the rest of the light continues through the glass, showing a color somehow modified by the glass, so that others who observe it might stand amazed at the display and the artistry. It’s this mixture of the light and the glass, the divine and the human, that reveals the true meaning and purpose of the window: to point us toward the source of light, even God himself.
Over the next several weeks, our worship services will be full of images of stained glass windows, which will be projected on our screen at various points throughout the services. During the spring and summer seasons, we will be considering several questions related to the kingdom of God – that divine kingdom which is breaking into the world, that reign of God which takes shape in our lives and causes us to be reflections of the light of Christ. When you see the stained glass images, remember that God’s light shines in you and through you in order to change the world.