Friday, 19 October 2012
On Having a Blackened Halo...
This is a photograph of the East window above the altar-table at Church. It is a piece of religious art I both love and hate. I hate it because I'm not very keen on Victorian depictions of the last supper, on the whole, because they tend to be quite miserable and Jesus is always pale and English-looking. The disciples are all bearded men, dressed wholly inappropriately, and are also pale and English-looking.
But, there's always a "but" with this sort of thing for me: I love this stained glass window because it is quite unusual. It's a bit small to see the full detail in the photograph, but one of the disciples has a blackened halo. Often on a Sunday morning when I look at Judas I feel quite sorry for him in this image: permanently marked out by the artists as the betrayer, one whose holiness and faithfulness is called into question so very publicly every week. As if to make it more obvious, the artist has represented Judas facing away from Jesus, and away from the fellowship of all those who are called to share in the supper, almost away from his salvation.
It's an unusual image. There are very few stained glass windows showing Judas in this way; the local historians say only three in the UK and less than a dozen across Europe. What startles me about it is the boldness of the artists to continually name and shame the one who betrayed Jesus, and to do so very publicly. Sometimes I think this must be a great act of cruelty. Other times I wonder if the artist wanted to send home a message to the congregations who sit and face the image each week during Holy Communion: none of us is guiltless.
For me, the presence of Judas with his black halo is quite a comfort - precisely because he is present. Sure, he is on the edge, turning away, marked out as one who is quite unworthy to receive, but he's there. Jesus has not yet sent him away - not before first dipping bread with Judas. Not before sharing something with him. I'm humbled by this. I know what's coming, what Judas will do, and what Jesus will encourage him to do. But here, moments before all that, Jesus eats with Judas - the betrayer and the betrayed. How easy it is to move from being present with Jesus, to acting against Him. How easy it is to point out continually the failure of others, to expose blackened halos. How easy to forget that I am and can be and will be Judas, and that Jesus, knowing all of that, shares his bread with sinners.
- Posted from my iPad