THE Ascension WINDOW
As you sit in the beautiful Calvary sanctuary, look to your right and study Louis Comfort Tiffany's masterpiece! From only a few passages in the Gospels and in Acts, Tiffany was able to depict the most amazing and unbelievable moment when Jesus was taken up and hidden in a cloud! Look at the faces of the disciples! They look stunned! It's not clear that Christ ever shared HOW he was going to the Father, so it’s a pretty good guess that none of the disciples suspected this would happen! Clouds were a Biblical image signifying the presence of God, so here the imagery is perfectly used; Christ is rising to Heaven to be with God, the Father! You can find this also spoken of in the Apostles Creed found on page 881 in the United Methodist Hymnal.
Some traditions celebrate the Ascension 40 days after the Resurrection, and others, 10 days before Pentecost, a time marked by joy! Acts I:3, it is written that Jesus "presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking of the kingdom of God." And in verse 9 " And as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." And in verse 10, " And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, (verse 11) "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." This took place on the mount called Olivet which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away.
Luke's account is like the one in Acts, but it doesn't mention 40 days. At the end of the book, it says, "Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God."
Notice that there are only eleven disciples portrayed on the mount. Judas has been disgraced for selling information as to Jesus' whereabouts to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver, and with that money went and purchased land a field. Some accounts say he died mysteriously there and to this day that field is barren. Other accounts say that Judas hung himself.
Look at the center figure in green robes. The face is that of Louis Comfort Tiffany's father. Or is it of himself? It makes you wonder who the other faces are and if LCT is honoring them? That was a common thing for artists to do; especially when a benefactor or a powerful figure could be "enshrined" forever in a painting. Here, they are memorialized in glass.
As in all of Tiffany's pictorial windows, only the faces and hands and feet are painted and fired. From outside you can see that milk glass was placed behind the light beige glass to capture the look of flesh. There wasn't any single sheet of glass that was perfect enough to use for the figures, so Tiffany plated the pieces (layered them) to achieve the color he wanted.
Another thing you should notice is how the gowns of the angels and the robes of the men are so rippled and folded. This technique was extremely difficult to do on a metal table so that the folds would be in the right places! It was even more difficult to get the uneven glass into the lead cames or foiling several layers separately and soldering it all together without breaking or cracking a piece. Study the design and see how the horizontal pieces and vertical pieces are balanced. Were they all horizontally arranged, the panel would buckle under the extreme weight like a roll-top desk. In the sky you see how the clouds and angel's feet are used for this technical purpose. Flowers and feet add some vertical lines in otherwise horizontal pieces of the grass and ground. Where there are many figures, it is much easier to design a stronger structure.
Using angels to assist Jesus up to heaven was another way to suggest how this miracle took place. (Today there are a lot of folks trying to say that extra-terrestrials were responsible!) In early Byzantine paintings, Jesus is in some sort of basket or conveyance that lifts him into heaven. But Tiffany chooses to show Jesus rising without any help at all! The angels are behind him, not helping him! See how his hands are stretched out as in a blessing? He looks lovingly at his faithful followers; his first disciples and towards us, his present ones.
It is our prayer and hope that you will come to appreciate this magnificent window; made from thousands of individual pieces, by modestly paid workers, many of whom were single or widowed women who were not educated enough to teach or nurse, but whose flexible fingers and patience made Tiffany's designs come to life.
Nancy Richards (Member of Calvary UMC), April 27, 2019