From “The Miracle of the Spirit,” Christ and the Meaning of Life, 57-58 (1962)
Surely you have seen an ancient cathedral with windows of stained glass. Often these windows depict stories of the Bible — Adam and Eve, the prophets, Mary beneath the cross of her son, the women at the grave of the Savior. But if you go round the church on the outside, you will not see this at all. The windows seem to be dull and drab. But if you go inside, they shine in all the richness of their color. In a way they preach the old stories. And anyone who takes the time can spend a whole hour listening to the pictures speaking. On the outside, however, they do not speak. They do not concern us at all.
Pentecost is an event through which we are, as it were, sat down within the church where the pictures and stories began to speak. Perhaps everything you learned in Sunday School and confirmation instruction looks dull and grey to you and says nothing too. Then definitely that is the sign that you were seeing the windows from the wrong side and that the miracle of the spirit has not yet led you to the inside. You and the disciples are looking at the same windows, but each is seeing them from the other side
This happens elsewhere in life too. If you look at a mother’s love from the outside, as a cold, merely biological observer, then it, too, looks rather colorless — that is to say, like some kind of foolish fondness induced by glandular secretions. When you think of your own mother, the peace of her protection, the warmth of her heart, her loving thoughts, and the picture of a mother suddenly bursts into bloom and full and warm color. Then you see mother love from the inside as does a child that belongs to its mother
So it is with the Holy Spirit. As he leads us into the interior of the house of God where the windows shine, suddenly we are no longer mere spectators and onlookers. Suddenly it becomes clear to us that the Father knows us, that we are his children. Once we’re inside we see that it was not just anybody who once was hanging up on the cross but that he died for me. There I am suddenly drawn into the events of the pictures; all at once I become an actor and I, too, find myself standing with the rest beneath the cross and at the open grave. Suddenly my sins are forgiven and I can begin life anew
That’s what the disciples meant when they said the scales have suddenly fallen from our eyes. Suddenly they knew: I am the one who is meant; God has looked at me and my life, and now I can no longer evade that gaze.
Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. An opponent of the Nazi regime, he played an important role in reestablishing religious and intellectual life in postwar Germany, founding the theological faculty at Hamburg while also pastoring the city’s main church, the St. Michaeliskirche. His book Christ and the Meaning of Life was a collection of sermons mostly preached on radio and television.