Two weeks ago, a church in a rural Tennessee town caught fire. According to reports, an older shrine next to the current shrine has burned to the ground.
A cousin of mine found out about the church fire and informed my family members. She knew we would want to know because our grandfather pastored this church in the late 1960s and early 1970s until his death in 1972. As a teenager, I spent weeks every summer at my grandparents and I heard my grandfather preach many sermons in this ancient sanctuary.
Years after his death, the number of members of the congregation increased and eventually they built a much larger sanctuary. To honor the memory of my grandfather, a magnificent stained glass window depicting Jesus walking on water was placed above the baptistery. Newsreel photos of the church after the fire show the front wall of the sanctuary completely destroyed. The stained glass must have been smashed and is now a pile of broken pieces.
Since this happened, I decided to research the making of stained glass. First, an artist sketches a life-size drawing of the entire window. Different colors are chosen for the design. Next, a riving iron with a heated tip is placed on the surface of the glass, cutting it into rough shapes as intended. An iron bar with a slot at each end cuts the edges of the glass to create the exact shape designed by the artist.
Then the pieces of glass are painted and placed in an oven. The intense heat of the oven fuses the paint to the surface of the glass. Then the pieces are placed on the artist’s drawing and held together by narrow flexible lead strips to form a panel. To fix the glass and waterproof the window, a semi-liquid cement is applied around the strips.
Stained glass has been displayed in churches for over 1000 years. They have been called the “poor man’s Bible” because so many of the faithful across Europe in the Middle Ages were illiterate. These beautiful works of art have helped people understand the Bible. These windows still speak to us today. They tell the gospel – the story of Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Some depict biblical characters from the Old Testament, such as Moses holding the Ten Commandments, and the New Testaments, depicting the apostles or stories such as the Holy Spirit descending as a dove after John the Baptist baptized Jesus or the Good Shepherd holding a little lamb.
Thinking of the stained glass window in the Church of Tennessee, I saw an analogy to life. Problems come to us unexpectedly and can cause us to lose our minds. Sometimes we may feel like we are going through a seemingly eternal fiery trial and we crumble. These moments are part of the story of our life. Just like stained glass, God can take our broken pieces and skillfully stitch them together into beautiful murals that reflect his glory.
God’s Word promises that he “is near to the brokenhearted and saves the brokenhearted” (Psalm 24:18). Knowing the difficult times of his childhood, it is remarkable that God called my grandfather to become a minister. God used the broken pieces of his life and left a lasting legacy of faith.