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Title: ‘His face was like the sun shining with full force’
Preacher: Canon Maggie McLean, Canon Missioner
Date: 9 April 2023 5.30pm
As you may have noticed, from early evening, the area round the Minster sees many ghost tours. Often the tours stop near the Great East window. Here there is a house known locally as ‘the plague house’, which is supposed to be haunted by a young girl who appears at a first floor window. It’s a regular part of the nightly ghost tours. I was rather surprised the other day – just as I walked past this house – to hear a woman telling her child, while pointing at the East Window, that this is a very, very famous window. ‘However’, she continued, and pointing towards a small window in the plague house, ‘not as famous as this window’.
Fame comes in many different guises.
Every day, more or less, I sit in front of the East Window as we say Morning Prayer at 07:30.
Sometimes it’s dark; in other seasons it begins in darkness and becomes light; and sometimes it is lit even before we start. But it never disappoints. Its colour and vibrancy inspire our prayer and remind us of those who have prayed as we do over many centuries.
The East Window is renowned because it’s an astonishing depiction of Christian themes by late Medieval designers and glaziers. It is a perspective, and a theology, that remains fixed to the time it was created, nearly 600 years ago.
This afternoon’s second reading provided the words that inspired most of the panels in the window. In fact the passage we heard today is captured almost entirely in one frame. Without wanting to make this sound like a crossword, from where you’re looking, it’s 10 up and 5 across.
It depicts Jesus surrounded by candles; hair white as snow; a sword coming out of his mouth. His face is a shade of yellow, reflecting the phrase: “his face was like the sun shining with full force”.
Of course, even the most gifted glazier couldn’t represent fully the force and splendour of this description.
Christ in glory;
It’s simply beyond human imagination and skill.
But the effectiveness of this panel doesn’t rely purely on human craft. In designing something novel, the artists were working with something older than humanity. As it happens – and I’m sure it’s no coincidence – 10 up and 5 across is just about bang on central to the window as a whole. I suspect that this layout is down to more than just chance. At the centre of the window this frame bears the full force of the rising sun. It is lit for longest and this inevitably pale reflection of Revelation is transfigured by the day’s first light. Working with God’s creation, the glaziers have achieved something no human power could ever provide. At those moments in the day the glass become the words from Revelation: “his face was like the sun shining with full force”. It is an overwhelming experience and, when it happens, it is too dazzling to behold.
At Easter we celebrate the Risen Christ, who has conquered death and in whom the light of God shines forth into the world. As the glaziers found, it is impossible for us to reflect that brilliance in our own strength and skill. We need to have God with us, in us, enabling our dull gifts to be suffused with the light of Christ. Six hundred years ago the glaziers knew that this would only work if the figure of Christ was set in the centre of their design. They left a message for every generation that followed, an invitation to place Christ in the centre of our lives, providing the love, meaning and purpose that transforms everything that surrounds us.
This Easter I hope and pray that we each embrace once again the transforming power of God and allow resurrection glory to shine out into the world.
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