In 1650 a vicious Civil War raged across the United Kingdom between the supporters of King Charles 1 and the supporters of Parliament. The city of Winchester was the ancient capital of England and a Royalist stronghold and therefore a key target of the Roundheads, Parliament’s army. After a short siege the Roundheads stormed the city. Many of the Roundheads were Puritans who believed that statues and religious pictures were blasphemous. Filled with religious zeal and probably quite a bit of alcohol according to eyewitnesses, they headed for Winchester’s ancient and magnificent Cathedral to “cleanse” it. Cleansing the Cathedral meant smashing all the statues and the stained-glass windows. They even broke open the tombs holding England’s Anglo-Saxon Kings and spread their bones around the Cathedral.
When things grew calmer the citizens of Winchester collected the broken pieces of glass and hid them. 18 years later when the monarchy was restored, they brought out the glass with the intention of piecing the broken shards of glass back together to restore the once glorious window. It proved impossible. Too many pieces were missing and the job of piecing the original pictures back together was too complex.
Looking at the piles of broken glass someone realised that something of beauty could be created from brokenness. The broken shards of glass were taken and arranged into a magnificent mosaic window which was over the main entrance to the Cathedral. The mosaic window flooded the cathedral with beautiful shades of light as the sun shone through it. That window of broken glass became a unique feature of Cathedral and attracts admiration from tourists right up until today. One of my sisters lived near Winchester and so growing up I visited the Cathedral many times and wondered at the beauty of the window without knowing the story behind it.
Winchester’s mosaic window is an example of beauty coming from brokenness. As well as being part of a church I think that mosaic window is also a great illustration for us in understanding what church is.
Henri Nouwen once commented that
“A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself. That is what life in community is all about. Each of us is like a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say “I make God visible” But others who see us together can say : “They make God visible”
Rather than thinking of us as little stones in a stone mosaic, what if we thought of ourselves like pieces of broken glass in Winchester Cathedral’s window?
Just like that pile of broken glass God’s sees the potential in our lives even though in places they are broken due to sin. God knows he can bring beauty from our brokenness. We are all different, different backgrounds and personalities, from different cultures and with different experiences. We all come with our different experiences and expressions of brokenness in parts of our lives. Some of that brokenness comes from our sin, some from when we were sinned against.
The Holy Spirit pieces us together in the church to create a thing of stunning beauty. The beauty of the church, like Winchester’s window, doesn’t come from it being perfect but through its very brokenness. God shines through the brokenness of the mosaic of lives that he has joined together in the church to display His glory.
Scot McKnight expresses the same thought with these words:
“The church is God’s world changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be. The church is God’s show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a family.”
Here is something to think about. The Church is God’s window in which and through which people should be able to see a glimpse of what God can do with broken human lives and God’s future for humanity.
I love the way Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians. In one of my favourite verses he describes our broken lives being joined together in a community as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit as He restores the image of God in us. Winchester’s window is magnificent but the Body of Christ is glorious.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).