The East Window at Sunderland Minster depicts the Apostles Creed. It is a statement of faith, in word and in pictures. Jesus Christ is at the centre, of both. And in the window, he is surrounded by his first apostles, many of whom were martyred for their faith, which came to be expressed in those words. Several of them hold in their hand the instrument of their death:
Simon the Zealot, with the saw with which he was sawn in half longitudinally;
Bartholemew, with a flaying knife (he became the patron saint of surgeons);
Thomas, with a spear;
James the less, with a fuller’s club;
Philip, with a cross;
Jude, with a club;
Matthias, with a chopper;
Andrew, with a saltaire cross.
(Peter gets to carry his keys; and James the Great his scallop shell, symbol of pilgrims. But both of them were martyred, too. Matthew and John are depicted, along with the other Evangelists Mark and Luke, as Living Creatures before the throne of heaven.)
It is in parts a gory display. And yet, that is not the focus. The focus is Christ, in whose life that has conquered death, their lives – as ours – is hidden, through faith. Death cannot hold them. Violence cannot end love. Darkness cannot extinguish the light.
Also woven into the window are images representing Sunderland, and the River of Life flowing from under the Tree of Life to reach even us.
Those who look on the window, Sunday by Sunday, are testimony that the faith first professed by those apostles is still active in the world, and has been without break. Held together by the One who was dead and is now alive forevermore.
And between them and us, thick in the space where light falls through the window and throws its colour across stone pillars, many more martyrs and many, many more saints. Many more stories, of what it looks like to belong to this community, whether young or old. Yes, the stories need telling and the pictures need interpreting; and now is the time.
It isn’t a window for All Hallows’ Eve – stained glass only works when more light is coming in from outside – but for All Hallows’ Day. When darkness is spent, and must give way to the rising sun. To the risen Son.
Of course, this window is fixed in one particular building. You’re welcome to come and see it for yourself. But up and down the country, there are similar buildings where, in glass and stone, similar stories are told. Those who have ears, listen.