The life and ministry of Christ

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ

These synopses were written for an ongoing project at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Enid, Okla. to recall the Biblical messages and symbolism behind the church’s stained glass and art work. These are works of art, but the messages behind the glass are far more precious than any worldly collection. These panels are special to this parish, but more importantly they are at the heart of the Christian story for all Christians.

In three panels these windows call our attention to three key events that outline our faith in Christ: the Incarnation, God becoming human to share life with and redeem us; the Baptism of Jesus Christ, recalling the presence of the Holy Spirit in our rebirth through Christ; and the Transfiguration, Christ’s appearance in divinity with Elijah and Moses, bridging the Old Testament to the New Covenant.

The next three panels, to be posted shortly, detail the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.

The Incarnation

Given to the Glory of God and in Thanksgiving for the Gift of our Daughters Elizabeth Diane Karam and Sarah Julianna Karam / By Richard and Hannah Karam

The Incarnation

This panel, depicting the Holy Family and the Incarnation of Christ, is the first of six panels portraying the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and it is the first panel on the west wall of the nave. St. Joseph is pictured holding a flowering staff in his right hand, recalling the rod of Jesse and the descent of Jesus from the line of David, in fulfillment of the prophecies. In his left hand St. Joseph holds a lamp, signifying his role as keeper, protector and provider for the young Jesus, “The true light that gives light to everyone.” (John 1:9)

At the bottom left of the panel two shepherds are depicted, recalling Luke 2:8-20 in which the shepherds are told of and later are witness to the Incarnation: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Pictured above the Holy Family is the star of the east, which led the Magi to honor the Messiah, recalling the Visit of the Wise Men in Matthew 2:1-12: “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

At the bottom right of the panel is pictured a lily, used in Christian symbology to represent both St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lily represents both the purity of Mary in the Immaculate Conception, and the chastity and purity of heart in Joseph’s acceptance of and celibate marriage to Mary.

The Baptism of Christ

Given to the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of David Jerauld Oven, Jr. (1924-1963) / By Helen Champlin Oven

Baptism of Christ

This beautiful panel depicts the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with his baptism in the Jordan River. St. John the Baptist is portrayed baptizing Jesus by affusion, pouring the waters of the Jordan over Jesus’ head (See Matthew 3:13-17 and Luke 3:21-22).

Pictured above St. John the Baptist and Jesus is a dove, portraying God the Holy Spirit, as described in Matthew’s Gospel: “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Immediately following this episode, in Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, begins his ministry in Galilee, and calls the first disciples. Taken together, this panel reminds us not only of the Baptism of Christ, but also of our own baptism, in which God adopts us, making us members of the church and inheritors of the Kingdom of God (BCP, pp. 298, 858).

The Transfiguration on the Mount

Given to the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of Gordon M. Williams (1903-1976) / By Alice Bender Williams

Transfiguration

This panel depicts the transfiguration of Christ on the holy mount, a foreshadowing of his glory that was to come. The Transfiguration is related in strikingly similar detail in all three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Jesus has gone up to pray on the mountain shortly after feeding the five thousand and foretelling his own death and resurrection. With him he brought Saints Peter, James and John, who can be seen at the bottom of the panel marveling at the scene before them. Jesus appears shrouded in light; Matthew’s account tells us Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

Moses and Elijah appeared also, speaking with Jesus. Moses is depicted at the left of the window, holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments, representing the Law. Elijah stands at the right side of the window, holding a scroll, symbolizing the prophecies of Israel, all of which were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration end with God’s admonition to the disciples – then and today:  “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

2 thoughts on “The life and ministry of Christ

    • They are beautiful works of art. Each of the windows is packed with symbolism, including the artists’ use of light to bring attention and meaning to the subjects. I think having them bathed in light with Christ recalls Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” It’s a continuation, not a replacement of our relationship with the Divine. But, then, part of the beauty is the art speaks a different story to each person. Thanks for your comment!

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