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Thought for the weekend: Allen Sleith, Hillsborough Presbyterian Church


The pandemic is an enormous crisis with numerous consequences, but even that has been pushed out of the headlines by the killing of George Floyd and the aftermath of the worldwide protests.

The USA, especially, is convulsed by popular revulsion and demand for change in a way that no one could have foreseen a few weeks ago.

As I watched events unfold, my mind went back to the Wales Window at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, given by the people of Wales in response to the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the church on September 15, 1963, in which four young black girls were killed, dressed in their Sunday best.

You might remember the atrocity from the beginning of the acclaimed 2014 film Selma.

Do an internet search and you'll see that the large stained-glass window, the work of John Petts, depicts a brown-skinned Christ, his body seemingly moving off the cross, as though no longer captured by it, but still conveying the universality of human suffering in his downward gaze.

One of Christ's outsized hands is turned in defiance against the demonic powers that brought him to crucifixion, while the other is held open to embrace the entirety of creation. The garment he wears is suggestive of a prison suit or chain-gang uniform, and his boots are darkened, as if he has been marching in the mud.

Petts' artistic genius presents us with an image that juxtaposes normally opposed categories: jarring and inspiring, helpless and powerful, the victimised and the transcendent, all portrayed in iconic simultaneity.

The inscription reads, "You do it to me", paraphrasing the parable of the Last Judgement in Matthew 25:40 and now rendered with fresh existential resonance, with the killing of a black man also representing the oppression of an entire people, as well as the full force of universal human depravity turned upon him.

Such a stunning take on Jesus's words is in keeping with the way in which the Christ event both reveals the extent of human complicity and the glory of divine redemption. For even though breath is literally squeezed out by horrendous acts of cruelty, the Spirit of life will ultimately prevail. A change is gonna come.

Belfast Telegraph