In the church I am attending these days there are the most beautiful, Tiffany-made stained-glass windows all around the nave. Above the altar is a triptych. In the center stands Jesus. His delicate feet are bare and pointed at us as though we could just reach up and touch them. His arms are raised. Are they saying, come to me? Or are they telling us to praise God? Or are they just telling us how happy he is to see us?
The brilliant white and bright colors of his garments wrap around us as much as they do him.
His head, his precious, delicate head, is tilted ever so slightly. Is he thinking? Or, again, happy to see us? Or is he tired and wanting to rest?
In the early morning service, the light from outside blasts through him so that he is almost larger than life itself. Certainly larger than death itself.
The joy he brings into the church cannot be described. We can be humbled instantly by his grace, his beauty, his humility.
And, yes, we all realize that this is just glass. Not a real portrait.
But in so many ways, this light and color, the gentle shaping of our lord is more than real. It is the beating of our hearts. The breath in our lungs. The love that God feels for us.
In the evening, when someone neglects (gloriously) to flip the light-switch that will keep Jesus lit up, and the days grow shorter, Jesus fades to black. It’s a very gentle process.
There comes a time when only his upraised arms and his tilted head are still visible. And I always find myself wishing that the fading would stop there, that this partial image would remain hovering over us. Mostly gone, but still there. Still reachable.
But, invariably, as the light of the day goes, so does his image. All that remains is the reflection of a light from somewhere else in the church reflecting off of a few panes on one side of the window, and the faint statement of the broad lead lines that outline the picture.
As we approach the rail for communion, some of the smaller lead lines can also be perceived.
But that’s it.
I have come to love contemplating this duality: the light, fully-there Jesus and the Jesus that moves out of our sight We know he’s still there, but we cannot see him. The seen Jesus and the unseen Jesus.
And as I’ve thought about this, I have realized that with the seen Jesus our perception of him stops with this beautiful image. We stop our understanding of him as we gaze on his delicate hair, and his thin fingers, and the step of his foot. We stop our wondering about what he is truly like, because as we look on him, we just know. We look and we know him.
But as he fades from our view, while remaining there, our perception of him goes beyond his image. Our understanding of him can reach into the infinity that the blackness invites us to explore. We can be with him in the totality of the universe. We can be with God, in Jesus, in the soft ebony of the shimmering glass.
It’s as though, in the light, Jesus is with us. But in the night, we are with Jesus.