On February 21st, we welcomed members of the Channen family as we acknowledge their contribution to the fabric of the church in the form of the Empty Tomb window, dedicated to the glory of God and the memory of the Rev. Canon A. Gordon Channen (Incumbent 1941-1953). The Rev. Channen is described in archival documents as being ‘infectiously lighthearted’ and having a ‘welcoming sense of humour’ and a ‘kindly spirit.’ We were delighted to have his grown children join us as part of our anniversary year and to be able to honour him and this beautiful window as part of our Lenten observance.
The beauty of the Channen memorial window is how strikingly alive it seems. Iconic symbols of the Resurrection—lilies or the phoenix—which are typical of Easter windows are not present here. This is not a set or iconographic composition. Rather it is a dramatized depiction of this singular moment of discovery, a glimpse of a narrative in progress.
The women have only just arrived. The spices to prepare Jesus’ body are still in their hands. Of the two women standing, notice the woman in the full white veil. By the tilt of her jaw and the clarity of her profile, we can tell her gaze is intently upon the angel. Her expression shows no doubt. It is beautifully reposed, almost hopeful. She does not turn away. Her posture and the restraining hand of the other woman suggest a continuing forward motion. The hem of her gown and her head covering still swing out behind her as if she has only just come to a stop. The woman in blue has dropped to her knees, but here too the attitude of her body suggests she has only just been halted in surprise. She has raised one hand to her face, but in the other she still holds the ewer of spices. Her approach has been abruptly checked by the presence of the angel.
The right-hand panel presents such a contrast to the attitudes in the left-hand panel. Here the angel’s face is neutral and placid. Our eyes are drawn to the empty tomb by the drape of sheets and the angel’s outstretched hand, but the image is essentially without motion. There are no raised arms, clasped hands, no swinging hems, no haste arrested nor faces averted. The angel sits in pacific stillness here.
License has been taken of course in representing a sepulcher instead of a cave, and the empty tomb, trailing sheets, and the bare cobblestones in the foreground occupy a relatively large portion of the panel. Paradoxically this panel is essentially an image of nothing. And yet it is everything.
The empty tomb, abandoned burial cloths, the placid angel are carefully contrasted with the energy of the women’s arrival. Similarly the mute rocks and dark tomb are balanced by the brilliant blues and whites and the tumultuous glass of the sky above the women’s heads, where we see the effect of clouds rolling away and a new rising sun breaking through.
Finally, in the circular window that tops the two panels, we find the chalice and paten (with the draped corporal echoing the lines of the women’s dresses and the discarded burial cloths). There, above all else, are the emblems of the Christ who died and who is resurrected for us.