HERALDRY AT NCBC: PART2
(Click to enlarge)
In the second part of this series I want to look at the middle window of the triad of lancet openings at the north end of NCBC’s nave. The dominating motif of this window, although at first sight a little difficult to see, is the depiction of a grapevine whose main branch runs centrally for the full length of the window. Two other branches sprout from the base of the vine and wend their way round the perimeter. Adorning the vine branches are bunches of grapes, leaves and spiraling tendrils.
The vine is, of course, a Biblical metaphor for the church, and it has undoubtedly been used consciously by the creators of the window. The rambling untidy grape vine provides an excellent allegory for the sprawling population of the ekklesia, a religious movement who form a striving tangled chaotic body of variegated traditions, a community with very fuzzy boundaries.
John 15:1-6 sketches an extraordinarily compelling metaphor of Christ as the true vine and his ekklesia as the vine’s branches, organically linked to the life in Him. The vine is a beautiful if untidy example of flora, but beautiful though it may be the Vinedresser (God) is primarily looking for it to produce the fruit of the vine, namely, the bunches of grapes we can see in our stained glass window (see Matt 7:16-20,Luke 6:44, Luke 13:5-9, Gal 5:22)
Interestingly, the central branch hangs with unripe green grapes whereas the perimeter vines hang with ripe purple grapes. My interpretation of this contrast between ripe and unripe fruit is that it carriers a challenging almost self-deprecating message: The central vine represents the ekkelsia at NCBC who are being summoned to look to the ripening of their own fruit and not to that of unidentified surrounding churches whose fruit is shown, for comparison, to be already ripe.
The Biblical passages I have quoted contain stark and terrifying warnings about the consequences of not bearing fruit and subsequently being cut off. I myself have very general ideas about just what constitutes the fruit God is looking for (see Gal 5:22). I do not I accept that this fruit is confined to a particular sectarian realization of Christianity. But no matter how general that fruit may be the warnings in scripture about failure to bring forth this fruit is extremely disquieting. And yet imagine a world without the fruits mentioned in Gal 5:22 – that is without love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness – it would be hell. Without this fruit the consequences are indeed as grave as the Bible suggests.
The picture of the vine helps us to contemplate the profound truth of dependency: Everything about us is dependent upon a myriad conditionalities as supplied by providence – we cannot claim our lives to be logical truisms; we can only lay claim to life being a conditional truism. Should any of the relevant conditions be cut off, then our existence is called into question.
In what I take to be master stroke the creators of the window have sharply reminded us of our existential dependency. The base of the vine is shown as if it has been cut, forcefully reminding us that we cannot take our physical and moral life for granted; we are the subject of numerous providences anyone of which if removed from the equation of life would bring our physical and moral life to an end.
Our greatest fear is loss of the fruit of the harvest (see Matt 3:10, Luke 3:9). The Biblical passages may be disquieting, but if they where anything less than highly provocative they would lose their gravitas, a gravitas that is so badly needed to keep our minds focused on what is of eternal value.
In the next part I will be looking at the coats of arms and other paraphernalia that adorn the central vine.