The Resurrection of Christ

The stained glass program at St. John’s Catholic Chapel culminates in the sanctuary with a window of the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospels do not recount the actual moment of Jesus rising from the dead, as no one witnessed it, but rather events that occurred later when the disciples visited the empty tomb. Each offers a unique account. Matthew tells how after the Sabbath, early in the morning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb where they had laid Jesus only three days before. As they approached, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled back the stone covering the tomb, told them that Jesus had risen from the dead and commanded them to return to town to spread the news. They departed at once and on the way met Jesus, who further encouraged them to tell of his resurrection, which they did. The Evangelists Mark and Luke recount how the angel was already inside the sepulcher when the women come upon the scene. John relays that upon witnessing the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene immediately went to tell Peter and John, who returned with her to see the stone rolled back and the burial clothes cast-off. Perplexed by what they saw, they left. Mary however remained and was rewarded for her devotion with an encounter with the risen Lord, who told her to return to town to spread the news.
The lack of textual description for the resurrection has generated a wide range of visual responses to it. The artist responsible for the window at St. John’s created a unique depiction. In the center of the window the risen Lord stands in front of the tomb, represented here as a rocky outcrop surrounded by foliage. With his right hand he pushes back the stone slab that sealed the tomb, while with his left he reaches upward, a motion paralleling his own resurrection. Generally, artists do not portray Christ opening the tomb, but rather depict him victoriously rising from it or boldly standing in front of it. In his resurrected—divine—state Christ is not limited by time and space and thus need not open any door. Perhaps the artist portrays Jesus pushing the stone back to signify his power as God the Son—an allusion to pushing open the gates of heaven or back the gate of death? If this is the case, then his upturned hand in the window might express his thanks to the Father for answering his prayer. The quotes in the window pertain to Jesus’ resurrection: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11: 25) and “He that believeth in me although he be dead, shall live.” (John 11: 25-26)  He says these words upon raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus’ presence in front of the tomb’s entrance prevents us from seeing inside it and thus we must imagine the rock-hewn tomb where they laid his wounded body and shroud left behind. Or perhaps the artists has depicted Jesus pushing back the door to reassure us that he will push back the stone of our tombs.
To Jesus’ left, in the distance, is Calvary. The Gospels offer, at best, a sketchy description of the site. John describes it as located outside of the city walls of Jerusalem. Matthew localizes it near a crossroads and elevated. The window’s artist has rendered the place as a rocky hill accessible only by a winding path. He included the now-empty crosses of Jesus and the two thieves as reminders of the crucifixion. The visual detail of the difficult upward sloping path ending in the crosses can be read both as historical and spiritual truth: the way of the cross is a difficult path. The large, vermilion-colored sun that rises over the spot highlights it as well as visually links it to the halo of Christ—a possible reference to Jesus as the Light of the World? Along the sides of the window are two slender columns upon which stand stylized foliate forms that might be shafts of wheat, a symbol of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life. Eucharist references are certainly appropriate for a window located in the Chapel’s sanctuary, as is the theme of the resurrection.