The Good Shepherd Window

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

John 10:11

Popularly called “Christ in a hat”, this window was given in memory of Moses Ashley Curtis, Botanist, musician and rector of this parish for twenty-one years. A note on this window from James W. Cheshire says that “Mr. William Johnston Andrews of Raleigh, many years ago, showed me pictures of the Curtis window …. he carried around …. and showed people to prove that Christ wore the same kind of hat his father Colonel A.B. Andrews wore. Also, it is curious to note that.. .. He wore the crown of thorns on top of His hat.”

Bowler hats were common in the area in the 19th Century. The every-day hat and the crown of thorns are not curious but very compatible symbols given the underlying significance of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

While the Good Shepherd is one of the best known and most comforting images of Jesus, the significance of the image is more complex than the usual stained glass image can convey to our time. The connection between the shepherd and the office of ruler, so forcefully used in the prophetic promises of Isaiah, Jeremiah the pastoral images of Jesus at the Good Shepherd confront us with the life-and-death issues at stake in John’s use of the image. The words from John’s Gospel found in the bottom panel, layout the profound and ultimate issues that the image is meant to raise:

“The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

The everyday hat and crown of thorns belong together. The hat reminds us that the Good Shepherd identifies with his people that they may be brought to God ensuring them of more abundant life than they can find anywhere else, or under any other rule. But, even the mere figure of shepherd as a beneficial ruler cannot bear the full weight necessary to show Jesus as the Good Shepherd. That can only be done if the window figure of Jesus as the Good Shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.” Therefore, the crown of thorns upon the familiar hat is extremely appropriate.

Even more, Jesus is not a good shepherd who happens to lay down his life for his sheep. Rather, Jesus is the Good Shepherd of God’s people only in that and because he lays down his life. His sacrifice is not the inescapable submission to power and authority gone out of control. It is purposeful. Jesus is in control. A life is laid down in order that life might be taken up again in new fullness and victory. The peculiarity of this “Christ in a hat” is an excellent symbol of the triumph of self-offering and a self-sacrifice over fate or ineluctable destiny.

It is reported that Moses Ashley Curtis spent the last decade of his life employing his gifts and talents to find food for hungry people.  

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