Sunday, May 3, 2020

You are with me, all the days of my life
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy TX 77493
Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020

The two windows in the front of our church are based on the 23rd psalm with some reference to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. With that psalm being our psalm for this fourth Sunday of Easter I thought it might be a good time to take a moment to look at these windows and see what message might be there for us today. Let’s start with the artist’s own words about the window.

Please note pictures of the windows are at the end of this sermon.

The 23rd Psalm Window consists of two panels and is to be read by the viewer starting at the top of the left window going from top to bottom. Then move over to the bottom of the right window and read from bottom to top.

Start top left window.

Text: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Here the Shepherd, the guardian and protector of his flock, is lovingly holding us (represented by the small, vulnerable. trusting, sleeping sheep) offering protection, love and nurturing and meeting all of our needs. I shall not want. This holding speaks of our trust in God to provide and protect us. The shepherd’s left hand is protectively and calmingly watching over the resting sheep in the foreground.

At the very top left of this window is a dove representing the Holy Spirit.

Also beginning at the top of window is the flow of water downward representing the living water. It curves off the left side of window and re-enters at bottom of window along side the resting sheep and then becomes the still water for reflection of sheep’s face.

Moving downward in the window:

Text: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

The sheep representing us is lying down in cool green grass and surrounded by moving living waters that become still waters representing being in the peaceful rest and calming love of God’s presence.

Text: He restoreth my soul

The image reflection of the self that the resting sheep sees in the calm reflective water represents our being seen through God’s loving, forgiving eyes and having our soul restored.

Moving now to the bottom of right window and reading upward. from the bottom.

Text: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The path moving through this side of the window symbolizes our continued spiritual journey.

God guides us and leads us on the righteous path. The crosses drawn on the path we are walking are symbols of this being the path of righteousness for his name sake.

The life path journey (moving upward in window) going over the many hills and disappearing into the valleys shown here symbolizes the ups and downs of our lives.

Text: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Then the path comes upon the valley of the shadow of death and
completely disappears down between the dark granite cliffs that
form the deep valley only to visually emerge again as it enters into light and continues its path to God in the heavens.

On the far-right side of the window is the shepherd’s staff that he uses to protect, guide and comfort his fearful sheep. The path wraps around the staff and the staff towers over the “hills and valleys of life” and the “valley of the shadow of death.” This placement of the staff symbolizes that we are always under God’s protection, love, comfort, and guidance as we travel this path.

Text: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over

Note This is a bit out of sequence in the window, but the table is on the journey path.

The table on the side of the path in the midst of our trials and enemies is waiting for us. The gifts of nurturance on the table are represented by the chalice cup overflowing with blessings of abundance, love and protection given to us. Acknowledgement that we are abundantly blessed. The red jar represents the holy oil with which we are anointed, blessed and chosen.

Text: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The eternal heavens image and the angels represent the House of the Lord where we live/walk during the days of our life on earth and eventually dwell in the life after death. The path here emerges from the other side of the valley of shadow of death and extends deep into the welcoming mystery of God. Welcoming angels are at the entrance.

The artist’s desire is that the viewer use these symbolic images to connect with their own deep interpretation of the powerful 23 psalm. Art symbols are offered as a catalyst for the viewer to meditate on and interpret in their own heart and in their own story. I feel that then the circle between artist and viewer is wholly complete.1

One thing I noticed is that the path which has the cross on it goes down into the valley but most importantly it comes back out. That is the key piece I believe we need to remember in our current situation. Eventually we do come out of the valley.

As I was sitting in the church looking at the window earlier this week following a conversation with Fr. Chris about them I was reminded of a portion of the Camino de Santiago. I added a picture of this to the bulletin that was sent out to you. The picture is of the beginning of a long stretch across a plain. It’s a steep climb up a mountain before you descend into the plane which feels very much like going down into a valley. It takes 4 to 5 days to cross this section and to be honest it is much like walking through Kansas. Flat, hot and lots of fields, in this case wheat which had just ripened and was ready for harvest. Like what we are experiencing in our world today this is a tough maybe the hardest stretch of the Camino.

Just prior to setting out on this segment, Terry and Riley (two people that were walking with me) and I were having dinner at a sidewalk café in Burgos. Terry was in a bit of a tough spot and was running short of time to complete her Camino before her scheduled fligh thome. She was thinking about taking a train ahead and skipping this difficult stretch as a couple people had suggested. While we were speaking another pilgrim came by and sat down at the table next to us. She joined into our conversation and after listening she looked at Terry and said, “No you cannot skip the Meseta. It is the toughest most boring section of the Camino, but you must walk it. You are on this Camino to learn an important lesson and I think the lesson is out there on that flat plane.”

Talk about encountering an angel and not knowing it! Terry took the advice and she and I set out the next day. Riley had severe blisters and needed to take a rest so he stayed behind. The first morning we encountered an incredible little chapel run by two elderly nuns from Paris. I will not go into the details, but that encounter changed our Camino in a profound way. This was the start of several important encounters that Terry and I would have missed if she had skipped this tough section. We both needed to go through that long valley of challenge and came out the better for it. However, at the end of the valley we had to climb back out; up and over another mountain range before we could continue.

I feel that we are all walking in that valley today, this month, this year. We are not yet through it and we still have a tough climb out. But just as there was much for me to learn on that long walk through the valley, there is much for us to learn as we move forward.

I believe with all my heart that we will never go back completely to the way things were. Our lives will be forever changed and in some respects how we do church may change. But just as the window has the table set along the path with the cup that overflows so God has set a table for us along our path now. The table is overflowing with opportunities to examine who we are as followers of the Good Shepherd. Whose rod and staff comfort us and is walking with us as we move forward to whatever the road will bring. However, remember that those two angels up in the corner, goodness and mercy will follow us or in one translation pursue us all the days of our lives. So every time you look at these windows remember the promise of the Good Shepherd who led and guided the early church of Acts and leads and guides us today.

Fear not the Good Shepherd is with us all the days of our lives.