The Meaning of the Agnus Dei Rose Window
The Agnus Dei Rose
Our rose window…any rose window…represents the fixed point at the center of the turning world—the Throne of God in the midst of the heavenly city that is the Beginning and Ending of all things.
In Revelation 4 and 5, St. John is caught up into the anguish of heaven—that all creatures stand in exile before the throne for no creature is worthy to approach and restore the meaning of all things. As the fiery sword bars the way to the everlasting Tree of Life—the Source of the River of Life-- so all creation exiled from Eden has been subject to vanity—like the flower of the morning taking its momentary turn on the turning wheel of Death.
There are rumors of Resurrection at the end of time, but every created thing placed at the center of the wheel has been pulled apart—drawn and quartered as so many vain hopes and idols. Not even the lifeblood of bulls and goats shed by the billions over the millennia could keep the chosen people of Israel fixed in covenantal union with God—so set in the midst of the corruption of sin is the human heart. And St. John wept much as his transitory glimpse of glory would soon pass leaving him in greater exile than his imprisonment on Patmos.
Do not weep, says an elder, for the Lion of Judah has conquered. And I looked, and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders stood a Lamb, as though it had been slain. Everybody has something at the center of their lives. We say it’s God, but often a God in our own image—very rarely can we stand like John before the Throne ready to be struck down—let God be true and every man a liar. Humankind cannot bear very much reality and so we substitute what is human that we can grasp. We find ourselves worshiping the creature rather than the Creator—and we are torn apart—dismembered—because we become like what we worship.
Again and again, the Israelites took Jesus and would forcibly have made him King. Like their other Messianic hopefuls, surely placing him at the center would restore the Throne of God in the midst of Israel and bring the reign of God over all empires through her. The lion of the Tribe of Judah would prevail. Yet in a chilling turn Jesus was taken and forcibly crowned “King of the Jews.” And like every other creature “lifted up” on the center of the throne—he was killed.
And yet, when John looks he beholds this very Lamb, in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and of the elders—standing. A Lamb as though it had been slain, standing. The Lamb slain has been vindicated—and has taken his rightful place as the Beloved at the center of all things—the Conquering Lamb.
Any Rose window represents the fixed point at the center of the turning world—the Throne of God in the midst of the heavenly city that is the Beginning and Ending of all things. In Him is our Death, and in Him is our Rebirth—Thanatos and Anastasis—Death and Resurrection. “I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore”—and so the Lambs stands waiving the banner of victory. He has conquered Death.
But he has conquered Death by Death. He is the Lamb slain from the Foundation of the World—in Death opening the river of Life from his pierced side. Running the gauntlet of the fiery sword he has restored the Tree of Life, he has opened paradise. He has set free the streams that had been bound up in Paradise—the very life of God.
This Life of God, John sees in the seven horns and seven eyes—that is he is full of the Spirit of God in both power (horns) and wisdom (eyes), seen in the seven stars, seven-fold lampstand, and seven lights that stand before his throne. In the rose window, these Seven Spirits are represented in the Seven Golden Stars with the Eighth Red star representing the unity of the Holy Spirit. It is this very seven-fold power and Wisdom of God that the Lamb pours out for us into the Cup of Blessing. We have all been made to drink into one Spirit and believing in Him out of our bellies flow rivers of living water. This is the opening of the seven seals—the scroll that holds the meaning and purpose of all things that can only live if they die in him.
Then he came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Once we have encountered the Presence of anything that can truly stand in the center of this spinning world…before the Fixed Point…we can only fall down and worship.
The Cherubim that had once barred the way now call us to worship. All ancient sacred temples are guarded by cherubim—these terrifying living creatures that have the features of a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. They stand on the four points of the compass as in Ezekiel’s vision breathing out fire in every direction. They stood guard over the throne—the ark—in God’s Temple and any unworthiness in their presence meant death.
They represented the highest of all creatures—and man himself as intended—the Eagle, lord of the heavens, the Ox lord of the earth, The Lion, lord of the Beasts, and Man, lord of all creatures. But like the four rivers of Eden, when cut off, represent the four areas of our brokenness. We have lost the Eagle sight—and in our blindness are cut off from Wisdom. We have lost the Lion’s authority and in our pride have forgotten God’s Story. We have lost the Ox’s strength, and in our lusts our bound in selfishness. We have lost our Humanity, and in our Fear are fragmented in our relationships with one another. Blindness, Pride, Lust and Alienation is the power of Death that holds the world bound.
And yet it is precisely this Death the Lamb Dies and this Life that the Lamb gives. The Cherubim that had once barred the way now call us to life—to worship. Where we were blind, Wisdom opens our eyes. Where Prideful, the Gospel makes us Witness to the Greatest Story. Where bound in selfish Lust, Mercy furrows our hearts to receive Grace. Where Alienated, Kiononia—participation in Christ—becomes the Communion that restores our relationships.
And falling down before the Lamb they sang a New Song: A New Song because it is a victory song. Where there was weeping, now there is a new song. A New Song because we are made new. This song is given, like breath—he has put a new song in my mouth. It is the Seven-fold spirit with whom we are now in harmony. God breathes into our nostrils the breath of life and man becomes a living soul. God gives us Breath, and His Word, and together we not only speak in poetry, we speak in song. The first words of man in Scripture are poetry and in singing he joins together with the other creatures. In fact, he joins with the angelic song—the morning stars who sang together before the world was made—the heavenly host sang, Glory be to God on high. And so these angelic creatures lead us in a new song:
You are worthy to take the scroll. And to open its seals: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood. Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.
This New Song sings of our new relation to God—truly redeemed to God by the fountain of his blood. Out of every kind of a people he has called us in order that we might be priest kings—Kings as we order everything in our lives—in the world around us—and priests as we relate it all back to God.
The Venite of our Morning Prayer calls us to this every day—and really presents this two=fold of God toward Creation and Creation towards God. O Come let us sing unto the Lord—let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. Let us come before his presence. [It talks about how God holds all creation in his hands…and then calls us up to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness—so that all things stand in awe of him. And here is his return—for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the world and with righteousness –creating for us a world, a people, our own hearts made ready to stand in his presence. Here is all art, all science, all industry, all law, all medicine, all family, all toil and rest and time and trouble and sorrow brought to the praise of God.
That’s why this is a New Song—it is a a renewing song—a song that merely entering into begins to restore all creation—works Death backwards—unlocks the streams of Eden.
As I looked, I heard the voices of a lot of angels around the throne and the voices of the living creatures and of the elders. There were millions and millions of them, and they were saying in a loud voice,
“The Lamb who was killed
is worthy to receive power,
riches, wisdom, strength,
honor, glory, and praise.”
And like a rose window, an ordering of all things back to its fixed center, this song expands in concentric circles to encompass everything. This is the Gospel. There is not one aspect of life that isn’t changed and called to new life by the resurrection of the Lamb. This is the song that calls us to the Fountain of Life [Eucharist], this is the song that restores us to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. This is the song that sends us out to renew our Monday, our Tuesday, our Wednesday, our Thursday, our Friday, and our Saturday. A song is something we carry with us—that sticks inside and we find ourselves humming even when we think we’re thinking about something else. A song catches, and it catches others and calls them. Because were really carrying the song of those four living creatures. And this song penetrates our breathing, and our bodies, and the beat of our hearts, and the thoughts of our heart, and the work of our hands—until all is brought to the worship of God—the only life.
Then I heard all beings in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea offer praise. Together, all of them were saying,
“Praise, honor, glory,
forever and ever
to the one who sits
on the throne
and to the Lamb!”
The four living creatures said “Amen,” while the elders knelt down and worshiped.