A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 18, 2019
Trinity Bicentennial - 1819 -2019
The task of the preacher on any occasion is to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Today is the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost; a day when we continue to reflect on the mystery of our faith and its relevance to our beliefs; but it is also a day that we can reflect back on our own unique history of 200 years as an Episcopal congregation here in Morgantown and see the impact that Trinity Church has had on the aesthetic climate and artistic culture of this community. The particular focus that captures our attention this morning is the array of beautiful stained glass windows which are embedded along the side walls of the nave. They are splendid in their own right. Yet they are part of a much larger religious declaration being proclaimed here that gives this holy place a feeling of being set-apart.
A consecrated church is distinctly sacred space. It is seen as a safe-haven and sanctuary for those looking for solace, comfort, and security. Churches in general, are universally revered as hallowed shrines where God’s presence and Holy Spirit are endowed with awe, wonder, and adoration – genuinely felt, and deeply appreciated.
(Now I invite you to join me on a brief tour of the church)
Here at Trinity, some of you may have already heard my cryptic homily on how we view our religious pilgrimage metaphorically as a journey-in-faith, starting-out at the baptismal font which technically is located at the front end of the main aisle, even though it’s usually thought, mistakenly, to be in the back of the church. It is at the font, in baptism, at the beginning of our journey where we are splashed with water, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever. And regardless of however or wherever you envision the church’s point of departure, the journey of faith begins here and continues down the main aisle. We journey down the aisle, right through and past the transept, all the way up to the altar.
The altar in medieval times served as a tomb for royalty, or a final resting place for persons of nobility; mostly bishops, pontiffs, prelates, and yes, even saints – individuals of high ecclesiastical rank and status. Yet even today, though the tomb at the altar clearly represents the physical end of human life, it just as clearly points to a higher transcendence of the human spirit as well. Jesus on the cross at Calvary was resurrected and rose from the dead for our sake, to be sure; and that reminds us that in Christ, physical death is not the end; rather it is a gateway to eternal life…a new heaven, and new earth.
Surrounding us, therefore, on this journey-of-faith in this very building are the teachings, the lessons, the narratives and stories that help us nurture and shape our Christian identity; and we encounter those truths most significantly in the stained glass windows we gaze upon, the music we heartily sing, and the prayers we offer up in sincerity and good faith. Therein lies our hope.
So as a guide, using portions of the booklet that is in each pew, I would like to describe what some of these windows represent, and how they can readily touch our lives as we journey around and through the church. Starting first with the Aisle Windows, numbered #7 through 14, the first window, Number #7, is titled “The Nativity.” Here we see the Archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary telling her she will bear a child, and that her cousin Elizabeth will soon become the mother of John the Baptist. On the right lancet Jesus is in a manger and the shepherds have come to worship him.
The next window, Number #8, is titled “The Child, Jesus.” In it we see the three kings as they come bringing gifts to the Holy Infant, and we also note the Holy Family fleeing from King Herod into Egypt. On the right lancet, Jesus is depicted as a growing boy at work with his father, Joseph the carpenter, and he is also shown sitting among the elders in the temple amazing them with His wisdom.
Window Number #9 is titled “Preparation for Ministry.” Here Jesus takes leave of his mother, and is baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin John, who is shown lifting a wooden cross anticipating Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. On the right pane, Jesus is tempted with wealth and earthly power by a purple and green devil; and it is here that He calls His first disciples, Peter and Andrew, to be the fishermen – “fishers of men.”
The last window, Number #10 on this side of the wall is titled “Ministry and Miracles.” Jesus is portrayed heroically as He performs His first miracle, changing water into wine for the wedding guests at a reception in Cana of Galilee. He also demonstrates the faith the biblical (quite likely Roman) centurion had in Him, evidenced by the request to cure the soldier’s servant.
Now before moving on to the opposite side of the nave, let me say in passing there is another window here called the ‘Rogers Memorial,’ obviously quite different, that was previously positioned over the altar in the earlier church, and was transferred to this more cathedral-like structure as it was being built in the early 1950s. The Rogers Memorial was strategically placed high in the north transept overlooking the Chapel where other sanctuary furnishings from the prior church are now situated; and that makes for a noteworthy contrast regarding the range of artistry and the mastery of technique found in these cherished works of art – they are crafted stained glass windows at their best.
Now on this side Window Number #11 is the second bay that is entitled “Ministry and Miracles.” Here we see the son of the widow of Nain restored to life; and we note that Jesus gives Simon Peter, his most beloved disciple, the keys which are the symbol of his power to forgive sins. On the right-side lancet, Jesus appears radiantly shining like the sun as He is transfigured with Moses and Elijah on either side of Him.
The Number #12 window is simply entitled “Parables.” Artistic references are made to The Good Samaritan, The lost sheep, The prodigal son, and Jesus’ rather sharp rebuke teaching Martha that Mary has the better lot, delivered as a parable while Martha attends to housekeeping at the sisters’ mutual home.
Window Number #13 continues the same theme of “parables,” and again couples it with Jesus’ “ministry.” In striking fashion Jesus calls forth Lazarus from the dead. A poor man is depicted begging for scraps from the rich man’s table. And Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and hears about the Holy Spirit. Lastly in this window the parable of the laborers in the vineyard and their need for just wages is graphically portrayed.
Finally, to complete the Main Aisle Windows, Number #14 is tantalizingly titled “Last Days before His Passion.” On the left lancet we see a woman at Bethany pouring an expensive ointment on Jesus’ head; and that is followed by Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey, while the people are shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Then on the right, we see two of Jesus’ most significant last acts where he demonstrates humility by washing the feet of Peter and his disciples, and then he sits at table with all of them, including Judas Iscariot, for the Last Supper – the first Holy Communion.
While that completes the narratives and stories of windows in the Main Aisle, it is not the end of the stories at Trinity Church, and it certainly is not the end of the Christian story that has been told over and over again throughout the centuries for over 2000 years. By way of completing my homiletical excursion this morning, I hope you might grant me a token indulgence. One last assemblage of stained-glass deserves special note, and that is the Resurrection Window just over the baptismal font.
In that window, high above all else on the wall, the triumphant risen Christ is presented in the center pane, rising over, and dwarfing more than twice the size of any other figure. Jesus is seen with His open right hand raised in what can be variously interpreted as a sign of peace, or a gesture of welcome, or a greeting of hello, or perhaps even a clerical blessing. However it is perceived, it makes a lasting impression for those leaving the church, hopefully with their spirits lifted, and their hearts aglow to do compassionate acts of mercy out there, beyond the walls of stained-glass and bricks; out into the world that so desperately needs Christ’s love.
My hope for this Trinity Church Bicentennial remembrance is simply to recognize as we state at the conclusion of each Sunday’s service – that we will “go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the spirit.”
To which we all respond by saying: “Thanks Be to God.” ….AMEN.
CREDITS, NOTES, and REFERENCES available on request.