Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Julius Fishchbach
Delivered October 17, 1976
Sunday after Sunday as we worship in our Sancutary, we face this beautiful window and perhaps wonder what it is saying to us. This morning I will give my interpretation, which may differ from yours, but it will give us something to think about.
In order that we may think together it is necessary to establish some measuring points. You will notice there are three major panels - from top to bottom; a center panel and two side panels. All the three panels are divided, from top to bottom, into six approximately square frames.
We begin with the extreme top section, middle panel. There are several figures there but we will refer only to one; a dove, with wings outspread, flying downward. This symbolizes the spirit of God descending at the time of creation.
Here we should digress to say a word about artistic presentations. This window was created by the Willet Studios of Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Roberston suggested the general concept, giving the designer the ideas to be woven into the artistic composition. The artist attempted a tremendous task: depicting the story of religion from Creation to the Resurrection of Jesus. In dealing with ideas, mental concepts as well as historical facts, artists use two types of presentation: abstract lines and colors; and symbols and figures. Abstract art splashes vivid color in abandon resulting in various shapes and forms as well as unusual line formations, allowing the viewer to interpret as he will. This type of art is seen in our windows above the balcony. Symbols and figures were chosen by the artist for our chancel window. Some of these go back to primitive times; some were used by the earliest Christians.
We constantly use symbols and signs today. For instance letters of the alphabet are symbols of sounds; words are symbols of language. Other very common symbols are the American flag, symbol of patriotism; a dove with an olive branch in it's mouth, symbol of peace; skull and bones, symbol of poison and used on some chemical bottles; rabbit's foot, four leaf clover, horseshoe, symbols of good luck; and red and green lights used as traffic signals. Our most familiar religious symbols are the cross and the crown. A symbol used by early Christians was the fish. The initial letters (in Greek) of the words "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior" spell fish. This sign was seen in the Catacombs.
Now, going back to the top of our window, frames 1 and 2 at the extreme right panel, represent the night sky. Depicted here are stars, the moon, a comet, a cloud and two flying birds. Going across to the far left panel, top two frames, we see the daylight sky, with the bright sun dominating the two frames, also two clouds and a flying bird.
Continuing the story of creation, in the far right panel, frame 3 from the top, we see wild animal life, a giraffe, an elephant and a jungle in the background. Just below, in the top left corner of frame 4, you see two fish, a continuation of the wild life of the world. Going across to the far left panel, 3rd frame, there is a shepherd and a sheep. In the background is a cultivated orchard, representing civilized life and the domesticated animal. Just below, in the upper right corner of frame 4 is a whale, indicating that even in the midst of civilization we find wild animal life.
You will notice a curving black line enclosing all of this symbolism of creation. Is this possibly following Einstein's suggestion that space is curved?
Continuing downward, in the right panel, from 4, top right corner, you see a cross, the symbol of Jesus' atoning death; directly across the window in the left panel, frame 4, upper left corner, are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega.
Going down to the bottom frame of the right panel, is a medallion with symbols of the communion: a shock of wheat for bread, a goblet and a bunch of grapes for the wine. Around this medallion are three figures looking very much like lollipops with crowns. They are pomegranates and symbolize the resurrection because of the nature of the pomegranate to burst when ripe and expel its seeds. Going directly across to the left panel, bottom frame, you see another medallion depicting symbols of baptism: a descending dove, a shell pouring water, and a fish below. Again there are two pomegranates within the frame.
Now we turn to the middle panel which declares the vital facts of the story of Christianity. At the top is Jesus arising from the grave, a halo about his head, a banner of victory in his right hand, his left open in welcome to all mankind. An aurora of color is around him and two angels in heaven welcome him - one with a crown, which declares him king of kings and lord of lords and the other with a wreath (some think this is a crown of thorns), for he is Prince of Peace. In the foreground is an Easter lily.
The artist correctly makes the resurrection of Jesus the focal point of the window. It is truly the central fact of Christianity. Paul said: "He was declared Son of God by a mighty act in that he rose from the dead." (Roman 1:4) and again, "If Christ was not raised, then our gospel is null and void, and so is our faith." (I Cor. 15:14) Because he rose, we too shall live. The word is HOPE.
We worship not a great teacher like Buddha, Confucius or Mohammed, who died like all other men, but a Risen Lord who is with us today as our companion, teacher and friend. He is the Risen One, the Eternal Christ, the Living Son of the Father.
In the center of the window, extending entirely across the three panels, is a picture of the Lord's Supper as it was being instituted by Christ. All the disciples are there, notably John with his head resting on Jesus' shoulder. The others cannot be identified, except Judas Iscariot, who is seen sneaking out of the room with his bag of 30 pieces of silver, his reward for betraying his Lord. He is seen in the middle frame 4, just to the left of the head of Jesus.
This beautiful picture of the Communion Service is the symbol of the way of life which Jesus taught his disciples and us: the way of forgiving, sharing LOVE. The love which Jesus taught is a unique kind. It is expressed in the Greek word "agape". The Greeks had words of many kinds of affection: filial love (the love of a child for parent), conjugal love (the love of husband and wife), platonic love (a beautiful comradeship of friends), fraternal love (between brothers), parental love (love of parents for children), etc. The word "agape" expressed a love more understanding, more gracious, more deeply affectionate than any of these: the love of a forgiving father, so deep, so concerned, so empathetic that nothing could ever possibly change the relationship. ("I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord." Romans 8:38-39)
Not only is this God's relation to us but he expects the same kind of love to be shown between his followers, "This is my commandment, that you love on another as I have loved you." (John 12:12) This big word of the middle segment of our window is LOVE.
So we have the two big words in the message of the window: HOPE through the resurrection of our Lord with his victory over death and the grave, and LOVE, the heart of God himself, and the true relationship among all those who love him.
Finally, we have the word FAITH which is pictured in the scene of Jesus being baptized by John the baptist. This is seen in the lower third of the middle panel. The question immediately arises: why was Jesus baptized? Baptism is the symbol of confessed sin, repentance and God's forgiveness. The explanation is a simple and direct one. Jesus, the innocent one - convicted of no sin and acknowledged all wrong doing; completely identified himself with sinful man in order that he might redeem man from the power of sin. So, as the representative of sinful mankind, he submitted to baptism and completed that identification. He also sets us the example and challenges us to identify with him in commitment to the will of God.
In reaffirmation of this we turn to the shields of the disciples which appear on the right and left of Christ. Each disciple is represented by a symbol and all of those faithful men - with the one exception of Judas Iscariot - witnessed for Christ and it is believed all suffered martyrdom in his name.
Immediately to the right of the head of Jesus is a Greek cross, the shield of ANDREW. Tradition says that Andrew, while preaching in Greece, was crucified on this type of cross. Just below this cross is the symbol of two crossed keys, the shield of PETER. You remember the words of Jesus to Peter. "I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of God." Next, going down, are three money bags, the shield of MATTHEW, who had been a tax collector. Below this are three flaying knives, the shield of BARTHOLOMEW. He is said to have met his death by stabbing with flaying knivees. Next, a sail boat, the shield of JUDE, of THADDEUS. He sailed to distant lands on missionary journeys. The bottom shield on the right pictures a fish impaled on a hook: the symbol of SIMON, the Zealot. He was a zealous "fisher of men."
Turning to the left side of Jesus, beginning at the top, is the shield of JOHN the beloved disciple. The symbol is a chalice with a serpent. Tradition says his enemies tried to poison John but God spared his life. Just below John's shield is the shield of JAMES the greater, three scallop shells representing his missionary journeys. Next, the shield of THOMAS, the Greek letter Omega with three spots, reminiscent of the offer of Jesus to show this doubting disciple the nail prints in his hands and feet. Next, the shield of PHILIP, a basket with a cross rising above: recalling the boy whom Phillip found with the five loaves and two fish. The picture of the saw just below is the shield of JAMES the lesser, whose body was literally sawn asunder as he witnessed for his Lord. The last shield - at the bottom on the left - is the shield of JUDAS ISCARIOT, THE BETRAYER. It pictures on arch of silver coins (representing the 30 pieces of silver he received for his treachery) and hanging below, a hangman's noose. Remember Judas, in his wretched agony hanged himself.
Recapitulating the message of the window: the three great words of the Christian way of life: HOPE is the resurrected Lord, LOVE the way of life which he proclaimed and FAITH in him which characterizes the follower of the Christ.
The last word is for all of us in COMMITMENT. We are challenged by the signs of the disciples. All of them - with the single exception of Judas Iscariot, were so faithful in evangelistic zeal and missionary effort that they suffered martyrdom in Christ's name. We continue to hear his ringing words: "Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and Lo I am with you until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20).