Resurrection & Suffering Saints

Last year in time for Easter the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas unveiled its panoramic new stained glass, reputedly the world’s largest. At left is the Garden of Eden, surrounded by Old Testament figures. In the center the resurrected Christ, surrounded by Gospel figures, emerges from the garden tomb. At right, heroes from the Church age surround the garden of the Tree of Life, whose leaves will heal the nations.

These heroes include Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis of Assisi. John Wesley and Francis Asbury are there, of course. There’s early church martyr Perpetua, a noblewoman executed in the Roman amphitheater. There’s Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish nun, and mystic. Easily recognizable are Pope John XXIII, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Theresa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Less recognizable but no less important is the early 20th century black preacher William Seymour, whose Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles ignited modern Pentecostalism with hundreds of millions of followers globally.

Martin Luther is there, nailing his protesting theses. So too is cerebral John Calvin, to whose inclusion some diehard Methodists might object, but I don’t think John Wesley would mind, at least not strongly!

From more recent times, Montgomery bus boycott heroine Rosa Parks is there, along with Chicago mother Mamie and her teenage son Emmett Till, whose Mississippi murder helped ignite the civil rights movement. Less familiar to Americans, there’s mid 20th century Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople, who worked to reconcile Eastern Orthodoxy with Roman Catholicism. Likewise for Korean Methodist Bishop Sundo Kim, who created the 75,000 member Kwang Lim Methodist Church in Seoul. Mai Gray, the first black leader of United Methodist Women, is there. And there’s E. Stanley Jones, the great Methodist missionary to India. Finally there’s Matthew Joyner, a “special needs” child and Church of the Resurrection member who died young but whose legacy is honored through ministry.

So this Church age tableau is multiracial, showing male and female, from young to old. The stained glass magisterially illustrates the cosmic centrality of Christ, whose death and Easter resurrection unleashed grace-powered forces that continue to sweep through history, profoundly shaping all humanity, both believers and not.

Christ’s death and resurrection showcase gross injustice, inhuman suffering and the triumph of divine love over demonic evil. His followers as shown in this window partake of that suffering and glory. Most portrayed there are great and famous, by divine grace. Of course, many many more followers of Christ also suffer and prevail in faith, without wide recognition, but God notices.

The suffering among Christ’s followers was made most vivid this week by the acquittalin Pakistan of numerous men accused in 2014 of murdering a young Pakistani Christian couple. Shahzad Masih and Shama Masih, who had four children, labored in a brick kiln. A mob of hundreds, urged on by clerics and possibly their employer, accused them of burning a Koran. They were tortured and then incinerated in the oven where they made bricks. In their agony, we hope they recalled the torment on the cross of their Savior, in whose presence they now rejoice.

Thanks to Easter, suffering in faith is redeemed, and righteousness prevails over murderous injustice, for all eternity. The massive window at Church of the Resurrection tells part of the story, whose ending is not yet, but whose conclusion is victorious, guaranteed by the resurrected Man at center with pierced arms outstretched.

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