In his sermon at the state funeral for the late president George H.W. Bush, the Rev. Russell J. Levenson Jr. used the rose window of the National Cathedral to preach the Resurrection of Jesus. Bush himself had spoken at the laying of the final stone on September 29, 1990, 83 years after President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the first stone. On the completion of the cathedral, Bush compared the human soul to a stained-glass window.
“He pointed inside to that magnificent rose window and he spoke these words: ‘From where we now stand, the rose window high above seems black and formless to some perhaps, but when we enter, we see it backlit from the sun. It dazzles in astonishing splendor and reminds us that without faith, we too are but stained-glass windows in the dark,'” Levenson recalled.
“The president understood that even in the darkest of nights, things can be transformed if handed over to the redemptive power of the Almighty,” the pastor added. “No one on that first Good Friday expected Easter Sunday. But it came. It came because the light that brought creation into being also brought life from the grave. We call that resurrection.”
Levenson, rector at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, prayed at George H.W. Bush’s deathbed and witnessed the late president’s passing. In his sermon, the priest said Bush’s “life was defined by his faith and his service. He knew and lived Jesus’s two greatest commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor.”
Levenson and Bush both focused on the transformative power of faith. From the outside, stained-glass windows seem dark and unremarkable. But inside the cathedral, with the sun shining through the lattice, a magnificent beauty shines through.
Great cathedrals have been called “sermons in stone” because they testify to the majesty of God, and stained-glass windows bathe them in gorgeous, multi-colored light. Here is a photo I took from the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Palma de Mallorca.
As the pastor declared, God spoke to create light at the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:3), and the very Word by which He spoke (John 1:1) took on flesh on the first Christmas and rose from the dead on the third day after His Crucifixion.
The Resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus’s Resurrection proved His divinity and gave believers hope that they, too, will be resurrected with Christ (1 Corinthians 15). If a person acknowledges Jesus as lord and believes in His Resurrection, that faith will redeem them from sin and give everlasting life (Romans 10:9). This is commonly referred to as the gospel, the good news of salvation by faith.
While the federal government paid for George H.W. Bush’s state funeral, the National Cathedral is under the Episcopal denomination — one well known for compromising Christian doctrine to suit current cultural fads, especially on sexual issues. Yet Levenson gave a sermon about the gospel, and he tied it in with the beauty of stained-glass windows, quoting George H.W. Bush’s words dedicating the National Cathedral.
“My hunch is heaven — as perfect as it must be — just got a bit kinder and gentler, leaving behind that hole for you and me to fill,” Levenson declared in a moving conclusion.
What a fitting tribute to the late president, who was a veteran of World War II, an instrumental leader in the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more than anything else a believer in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.