In the north corner of Holland Road Baptist Church, there is a much-admired stained-glass window. It’s of a higher quality than the other windows and quite possibly a special gift from a benefactor.
It’s also a fine example of the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement of the last half of the nineteenth century, using images of roses, lilies and oak leaves, in the strong, clear colours of the period.
This movement stood as an artistic reaction against the increasing (and as they saw it, soulless) industrialisation of England. John Ruskin (1819-1900), an admirer of medieval craftsmanship, and one of the founders of the movement, said that art and architecture should mirror man’s wonder and delight in the visual creation of God.
Oaks stand for strength, endurance and longevity. These are qualities one needs in Christian life: strength to withstand the storms of life and endurance when times are tough. Oaks can stand against flood and drought, yet even when blighted they put up new growth around strong roots. There are oaks living which were saplings when William the Conqueror invaded our shores! Oaks also provide food and shelter for an abundance of creatures, more than any other tree. Is this not how our church should be? The majesty of an oak tree is a living symbol of our Lord in whose footsteps we tread. Then we will be called ‘…oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour’ Isaiah 61 v3.
Roses are a universal symbol of love. But their thorns ensure they are treated with respect! They need nurturing and pruning to show them at their best; yet even without that they will still produce beautiful blooms. As we think about Jesus’ perfect love for us we contrast it with our frail love for him. Like roses we need to nurture our love by prayer, with time in his Word, and with service for him. We also need to be aware of the thorns of life and not let these prevent us from enjoying the fragrant roses. Roses delight every part of us – smell, touch, sight – and so does Jesus. Song of Songs 2 v1 says, ‘I am a rose of Sharon, a Lily of the valleys’ and that is how Jesus sees us.
Lilies are often associated with death, but as Christians we know that death has no hold on us – it is only the door to eternal life with Jesus. Lilies can also symbolise the purity of Jesus. Luke 12 v27 states: ‘Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these.’ We are clothed in the righteous splendor of Jesus and our actions as well as our words should proclaim this to the world.
As for the colours
Red: the colour of blood shed for us by Jesus. It’s also the colour of our sins. Isaiah 1 v18 says: ‘Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow: though they are as red as crimson they shall be white as wool.’
Blue: the colour of the infinite sky and the vast sea – a picture of God from everlasting to everlasting. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites were instructed that many temple hangings should be blue.
Green: the colour of living plants. There is such a variety of greens. Green is a restful colour, a promise of a harvest to follow, and a reminder of God’s provision for us. Winter has its own beauty but how we long for the spring and signs of new life. Psalm 23 talks about green pastures and quiet waters. God knows what we need and he is our great provider. Praise him for all his goodness and kindness to us!
So next time you look at our beautiful window, also consider the symbolism, but even more importantly, read the board beneath it: JESUS IS LORD.