Glimpses of Grace and Truth... The old saying, “a picture paints a thousand words,” is still true today but a thousand years ago, that “thousand - word picture” was, in some ways, even more true. Because public schools didn’t exist and most people either could not afford education or didn’t want to join a monastery for an education, reading and literacy were rare. In that day and time, most stories of faith and life were told either verbally or with more visible forms like paintings. Since acrylic paint wasn’t discovered until the 1930s, paintings needed lots of care and limited exposure to have a decent shelf life.
So if you had a really good painting, you had to keep it away from the elements, away from human touch and especially away from light. Paintings of old would tell a story, but since few could see it, its story was rarely heard. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons people began developing that thousand - year - old art of making stained glass. In an almost reversal of fortune, stained glass is at its best when viewed out in the open, with bright light flowing through in order to tell its story with an exclamation point.
Some stained glass in Europe and England dates back to the early 1100s, showing its time - tested resistance to the elements and ability to continue telling God’s story to the masses. Some of the earliest glass windows tell the story of Christ’s crucifixion and King David’s royalty, but few windows are more common over the past 100 years than Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In thousands of chapels and sanctuaries around the world, the image of Jesus’ prayer has touched and likely moved millions to conclude at least one prayer saying, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” Closer to home, when our sons were babies and our daughter was a distant idea, I prayed that prayer in the chapel of Capleville United Methodist Church near our home in Germantown. Kneeling beside this image carried me along that Wesleyan way of growing deeper in my faith in and in my love for God. That growth would eventually help me to listen closely enough to God’s soft voice of grace and invite me to not only hear it, but share it with others.
I will likely always be fascinated by how well those “thousand words” have endured in stained glass, and how well this rare art form offered Christ’s stories to all people regardless of social, educational or economic status. And yet, no matter how provocative we are in describing stained glass or how vividly clear the glass is in telling its own story, younger generations today would almost always choose an action - packed, HD movie over a window of stained glass telling the same story for a thousand years. But before we criticize their youthful taste for action, we must be ready to criticize our own insistence on an art form that arose in an illiterate world as we sit among the most educated generation in human history.
I guess my point is that no matter how valiant the efforts of generations past, and no matter how well we explore or explain our history, we must continue to look up to, and even enable/ empower younger generations as they strive to pursue God in ways different from our traditional language or style. As they continue that pursuit, may we rehearse Jesus’ Gethsemane Prayer and, in the depths of our hearts, hope that today’s youth are learning to pray and yearning to pray, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” And remember: your presence in worship makes a difference in you, in us, and in the world. So give your faith the priority God deserves and we’ll see you Sunday.
In Christ’s grace, peace and service: Ed, Lea and the First UMC Family.