A Closer Look: Why the Ceiling is Blue
While renovating the old First Lutheran Church to be a suitable place of worship and congregational life for the parish and people of Christ Church, we made a number of deliberate decision, some to preserve, and others to bring the building more into line with our particular Anglican practice and theology. You’ll note that the stained glass windows remain, with all of their historic designations and Lutheran terminology. You’ll note as well that the organ remained intact, albeit with some repairs. We did, however, alter the placement of the baptismal font and communion rail, and the placement of the altar - which was restored to the original location of the historic Lutheran congregation. One of the most striking alterations was simply painting the ceiling of the chancel and sanctuary a deep, dark blue. Our contractor referred to it as “Dallas Cowboys Blue” - and it’s not far off! Why was this alteration made? The first reason was aesthetics. We believed that the blue would draw or push the eyes downward toward the altar, focusing all of us on the mysteries celebrated there. We also believed that it would set apart the chancel and sanctuary as explicitly holy space, set apart from the rest of the nave. In reflection upon the past two years, I think that this has been achieved. But, a greater reason was to reflect our theology, namely our theology of the Incarnation. Blue has, for many centuries, been associated with divinity. The ancients pondered the color of the heavens, especially during the day, and started to associate blue with God himself. In the Church’s iconographic tradition, blue is the color used to denote the divine. For instance, in icons of Jesus Christ, he is depicted with a blue inner garment and a red outer garment, showing that he is the divine Son of God, clothed in humanity. Blue also denotes the whole cosmos. It is said that Pythagoras was the first to apply the word cosmos to denote the good order of the universe, particularly looking at the “starry firmament” - which certainly appears in the biblical accounts of creation. In some churches, the ceiling of the sanctuary is not only painted blue, but is stenciled with gold stars. The theology expressed through this is deeply sacramental - the invisible world of the heavens, the dwelling place of God, is made present to us through the Sacrament, through the preaching of the word, the whole of the created order, both visible and invisible, seen and unseen, being brought together in one. This sacramental theology is rooted in the Incarnation. Saint Augustine writes: “In the bosom of His Father, He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly Mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day. The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast;” Concurrent with this deeply Incarnational imagery is also a nod in the direction of Mary, the Lord’s mother, who is also identified by the color blue in Christian imagery. The inverse of her son, she is depicted in the iconographic tradition with a red inner garment (of the flesh) and a blue outer garment (as one clothed in the garments of divinity). In this, she points us to our ultimate end - to become partakers of the divine nature by grace. This is the very thing that happens in the Eucharist - the Lord Jesus Christ offers himself to his Church in bread and wine, and the Church is clothed, as his bride, in the garments of divinity. The Church is, as William Cavanaugh puts it “the visible continuation of the Incarnation in history.” As a priest, it gives me great joy to witness our parish at the communion rail, to see the great reverence and piety with which each of you, and all of us together, come to meet our Lord. This is the Church at her pinnacle - receiving the source of her life from the Lord, and becoming most truly who she is - a divine humanity. The blue ceiling stands as a reminder that the God of Israel has, in the person of Jesus Christ, done what the Psalter says: "He shall defend you under his wings, and you shall be safe under his feathers; his faithfulness and truth shall be your shield and buckler.” (Psalm 91:4) We, as a parish, stand under the protection of Almighty God, who has equipped us with his faithfulness and truth. Thanks be to God for that!