Wednesday, November 4, 2015
And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
- Genesis 28:17
Today we are rededicating our stained glass windows. Last year a specialist in stained glass care and preservation did extensive work on our windows, and many of you helped finance that work and bring it to completion. I am delighted to be a part of and witness to this effort. It is awesome to think that we have preserved these beautiful windows for the next generation. The more I've studied them, the more I am convinced that these windows are a treasure, a treasure that tells a story. These walls and windows tell a story of those that have preceded us in faith. In many historic churches, a graveyard surrounds the church. No one today would think to put a cemetery around a church—the temptation for churches these days is to peddle feel good religion that some thinkers have called therapeutic deism because it has a loose belief in God with the goal of making you feel better. Churches that were built with graveyards surrounding them were not designed to make the worshippers feel better but to put them in mind of the dead who had gone before them. They were faced regularly with the reality of human mortality. An acceptance of our mortality demands that one answer the questions: how shall we then live? How will our pilgrimage end? Will it find us following the good examples of those who have preceded us across Jordan's stream?
Though Trinity is not surrounded by a graveyard like our parent parish, Christ Church Shrewsbury, yet when we come within these sacred walls we are reminded of the faithful departed of this parish. There is the civil war captain, Samuel T. Sleeper, who was a vestryman of this church and who died on the field at Spotsylvania Courthouse, commemorated in a marble plague on the east wall. Then there is Herbert Tilton, a veteran of World War I commemorated in the window of a kneeling soldier before Christ. The windows records of Herbert that he was, and I quote, “A faithful Sunday School scholar, choir boy, and crucifer in this church until his enlistment in the U.S. army. Christ's faithful soldier and servant until his life's end.” This last line is a quotation from the baptismal service, and can also be seen chiseled into the front of the baptismal font. Herbert was 22 years old when he died on December 18, 1918. It was less than a month after the signing of the armistice the formal end to major combat in the war, which gives rise to speculation that perhaps he died of disease or an injury sustained earlier in the war.
The lily window near the back of the church tells another story. It was originally given in memory of Eleanor Currey MacKellar. The text in the window succinctly states that she “died July 11th, 1897 in her eleventh year”. It turns out that she was the daughter of the Rev. Robert Mackeller, rector of Trinity from 1892 to 1931, nearly four decades. It is hard for me to imagine how difficult it must have been for him to bury his own child. One might think that text of the window is too succinct, too formal, but to me, the flowers in bloom in the window say everything that needs to be said about a young girl whose life was tragically cut short. The real feeling is not in the words but in the images. Fr. MacKeller is remembered in a number of other windows including the three windows that are on the back wall towards the bell tower, featuring the ascending Lord Jesus and the angels who appeared with him on that occasion. The windows were given by the members of the guild of the golden rule in thanksgiving for the four decades of his ministry.
The story behind other windows is more elusive. Sometimes all we have are names, and this invites us to imagine what their story might have been, like the husband and wife who are memorialized in the nativity window. The husband died less than a month after his wife. Was he one of those who simply could not go on without his faithful companion and spouse? Similarly, the good shepherd window is given in memory of Mary Garrison Cole by her husband William Cole. Imagine the depth of love and devotion that could move a man to dedicate a window so beautiful and sublime.
This morning we are adding a new layer of meaning to our church building by the installation of the memorial plagues and the re-dedication of the windows. Memorialized in many of the windows are deceased parents, and in a few cases spouses of current members and friends of the congregation. Though these people still feel close to us, yet I imagine that those who come after us will know them simply by a name. Just as for many memorialized around our church, the story has been lost and all that is left is a name. Yet, in God, the story is never lost and the dead we memorialize we pray have their names written in the Lamb's book of life. This past Wednesday we commemorated the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude. Simon and Jude were two of the twelve apostles, but we know virtually nothing about them. Yet, their witness to the crucified and risen Lord mattered, and we know that it mattered because the church on earth was built and began to grow and continues to this day. Our own part and the part of those who have faithfully passed through these doors from week to week is not all that different. Posterity may only remember us as a name, but our faithful work in serving our Lord and building up this church will not be forgotten because this house will a visible testament of our faithfulness or, God-forbid, our faithlessness. The bricks and the mortar, the windows and the walls, will all tell that there were saints (who were also sinners) who faithfully said their prayers in this place and because it was the place where they said their prayers and worshipped the Almighty, they gave towards its upkeep. On this All Saints day, let us be thankful for the witness of all the saints who have gone before us, and especially those members of Trinity who have worshipped, prayed and adored their Lord in this place and so preserved this house of prayer. Let us pray that our Lord would give his Spirit that we might continue this labor to his greater glory and the building up of his kingdom, until we all come to that heavenly city, the city of light, in which there is no temple because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.