3rd April – Holy Saturday

Martin Davis

This stained glass is in St Mary’s, part of the East Window. The description in church says of this panel:

The Crucifixion. The Saviour’s body is complete, but the top and beam of the Cross are roughly suggested in matt glass. The Virgin is composed of pieces of old glass. St John’s head is of old glass (first half of the 14th century). There is a 14th century vine border. At either side are shields. That on the left is the arms of the de la Pole family. Dukes of Suffolk and lords of Kidlington manor. That on the right is the device of Abbot Thomas of Osney, it is a T inside an O surrounded by the arms of an X. Both are of the 15th century.

It’s somehow such a mundane description! The glass is very old, 14th and 15th century, but not the oldest in the window – some of the glass is 13th century – extremely early and the middle panel, second from the bottom is this. But this image is pretty stunning.

Although on this day we remember Jesus laid in a tomb, the stone rolled across the entrance, nothing to see, the sense of uncertainty for the disciples, we are caught between remembering the crucifixion and anticipating Easter morning. But there is something about the look and feel of this window that fits the mood of Holy Saturday. Jesus’ body is shown rather crumpled and collapsed, perhaps more realistic than many a crucifixion; his weight born on his arms, although his hands are just a dull smudge. His knees are bent, there is no life left in them. The disciples hands seem in an unnatural position, no footballing pun intended. Mary’s hands are very prominent, one holding her head, her hair, the other a book, or is it a box of ointment? Her eyes look directly at Jesus, her expression quizzical? Of course pieces of glass have been put together in a way that might not have been as originally, but the image is compelling nonetheless.

Jesus has died, what will happen next? In John’s Gospel Jesus speaks to the disciple that he loved and his own mother and tells them from now on to be as mother and son.

On this Holy Saturday we know the story of what comes next, but we may be less clear than usual on how we will celebrate this. And after Easter what will that hold? There is a road map out of the lockdown, but what lies ahead? What will be the constraints on our lives? How will the longer future pan out? We don’t know! Our uncertainty continues! We will need to have something of the disciples strength to hang on, to see what will come about, to put our trust in Jesus and discover together what the future will bring.