When I’m on holiday, I love looking round old churches and chapels. The variety of architectural styles and the history behind these buildings fascinate me. I am well aware that the church is far more than a building, but the splendour of some of these buildings does indeed point to the magnificence of the God we worship in them!
Last week we visited chapels in some of the Oxford colleges.
The Harris Manchester College Chapel is a Pre-Raphaelite jewel. The stained glass windows were all installed by the firm of Morris & Co. of Merton Abbey. The cartoons of the individual lights were designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris.
Keble College Chapel is a large chapel, unusual in its images showing Christ reigning in majesty above the altar, rather than focussing on the crucifixion.
I love how stained glass windows tell Bible stories and also how the light shining through them reminds me of the glory of the Lord:
The side chapel at Keble College houses Holman Hunt’s famous ‘Light of the World’ painting, showing the artist’s interpretation of Revelation 3, where Christ stands at the door knocking:
There are two lights shown in the picture. The lantern is the light of conscience and the light around the head is the light of salvation with the door representing the human soul, which cannot be opened from the outside. There is no handle on the door, and the rusty nails and hinges overgrown with ivy denote that the door has never been opened and that the figure of Christ is asking for permission to enter. The bright light over the figure is the morning star, the dawn of the new day, and the autumn weeds and fallen fruit represent the autumn of life. The writing under the picture, which is rather hard to read, is taken from Revelation 3 ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me.’
As I wandered around churches and chapels this week, I was reminded of the description of the new Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, found in Revelation 21 TNIV. In that chapter, we read of the Holy City shining with the glory of God, ‘its brilliance… like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.’ Charlie Cleverly says of this description “When we look up to God in worship, colour and beauty and delight can and should invade our world. The choice to worship daily is to glimpse eternity, colour, glory, beauty. It is a choice to see heaven open, to be re-envisioned and to be re-energised; to be involved in Jesus’ building of his Church on earth.” (Charlie Cleverly, ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’) This vision sparkles with colour: twelve jewels named, all different in hues. Talk about Joseph and his multi-coloured coat, the church is a multicultural, multicoloured community.
Just as in these buildings the stained glass windows allow light to shine through, God is building a bride full of ‘light, openness, purity and harmony.’ (ibid.) It might not yet seem like that to our natural eyes, but that is why we desperately need a vision of God that unites heaven and earth:
“There’s only one desire in the heart of Your redeemed
To step deeper in the place where earth and heaven meet.” (‘Rushing Waters’, Aaron Shust)
‘Rushing Waters’, Aaron Shust