If it looked like a bomb had gone off, it was because one just had. It was August 5, 1981 in Lisburn, just a few miles outside of Belfast in Northern Ireland. The ‘troubles’ between the Protestants and Catholics at that time took the title for ‘the war that never ends.’ On that particular day, the local Presbyterian Church joined the list of casualties. Whether or not the church was the intended target, the IRA detonated a car bomb just around the corner, and within seconds, centuries-old stained glass windows shattered. Suddenly the sanctuary, this place of refuge and safety, mirrored the chaos of the world outside.
While it took years for the church to rebuild, their windows were the hardest hit. The congregation decided early on that no piece of glass they recovered, no matter how small, would be discarded. Every last broken piece was once part of something beautiful, even if that beauty was hard to see now.
This story came to mind this week as I’ve been researching the stained glass windows here at St. Alban’s – in preparation for a scavenger hunt I’m doing with our kids this Sunday. I’ve been thinking a lot about stained glass windows – what they’re made of, what they reveal, and the stories they tell. Stained glass windows are a pretty great image for what God is doing with us in Christian community. Like the glass itself, we too start out (in biblical terms anyway) as “the dust of the earth.” And while we may try to avoid it, it is only by walking through fire that we become what we are intended to be, windows to the holy through whom the light of Christ can shine.
As for the windows themselves – what are they really but pieces of broken glass pulled together into something more beautiful than any one piece could possibly be on its own? Perhaps it is precisely in our brokenness, in our irregular shapes and sizes, our different colors and textures and perspectives, that God really has the room to make something beautiful. I personally take great comfort in this. No matter what I think I am supposed to look like, no matter how broken or chaotic I or my community may feel, I am still part of something beautiful – even when that beauty can be hard to see.
So what did the church in Lisburn do with all their shards of broken glass? From the pieces that couldn’t otherwise be reused, they created a “resurrection window.” In its center is a small orb representing the earth, although it looks more like a crown jewel to me. While swirls of red, of suffering and sorrow, surround the earth, the red itself is overcome by this brilliant light radiating from the center, the power of Christ overcoming the powers of violence and death. Interwoven in the window are what appear to be palm branches, symbols of victory and hope for a time beyond the ‘troubles,’ a peace many people in the congregation could not see then and could barely imagine at the time.
The window was dedicated in 1987, a full 11 years before the Good Friday Accords. Rebuilding amid our seemingly never-ending wars is hard, costly, painful work, to be sure. But perhaps it is only by offering up all of our broken pieces that God has the room to make something truly beautiful, a beauty we might not have experienced or appreciated any other way.
May God hold all of our brokenness, reveal our beauty, and make us whole.