As part of my summer wanderings, I toured the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham Alabama. I know you have heard of this church before, because I spoke of it in last month’s newsletter! It was in 1963, when American white supremacist terrorists bombed that building, and 4 children who were attending Sunday School were killed. The 16th Street Baptist church became a gathering place for the Civil Rights movement, and even leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were familiar faces in its sanctuary.
The Civil Rights movement only strengthened after the church bombing. Resistance continued in the form of non-violent protest. Sometime after that bombing an artist named John Petts from Wales heard about it, and he became inspired to create a new stained glass window for the church. A campaign for donations was launched in Wales, and the project began. Petts used the words of Christ in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” The window was installed just before the church reopened in 1965.
I was moved when I saw this incredibly beautiful window that witnesses to the human struggle for justice. Take a close look at the picture I have included with this article. The crucified figure, which is a black Christ, has an abstract cross of white and light colored glass. The figure’s right hand pushes away against injustice, while its’ left hand is open, offering forgiveness and seeking reconciliation. The rainbow crowning the figure’s head represents diversity. The gift of this window was a constant reminder that there are people in the world who care, and whose hearts are filled with love and kindness.
Pett’s window seems like pretty good theology to me. I would even say that he was inspired by God’s Spirit to create it. Its’ message of resistance and reconciliation is the message of Jesus’ ministry. Resistance is important and necessary, but resistance without reconciliation is only half the job. On the night before he died, Jesus prayed for us, that we might someday be united with him and with each other in love. We can rely on his word in all times. Even in this time. Because we are Jesus’ disciples, we are called to be justice seekers and peacemakers. This is the light from Jesus that we have to bring into the darkness. This is a word from God.