(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on July 22, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the seventh in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)
Over the last weeks we have been looking at the reminders of God all around in the symbolism of our church building and stained glass windows. Today we come to window number 6 in memory of Elizabeth Tannehill.
Marie Elizabeth Sellinger Tannehill was Born Jan 3 1859 DEATH Jan 4 1891 (aged 32) BURIAL Jerusalem Cemetery on Hwy 84 west of Winnfield. She was married to Richard Lafayette Tannehill who was said to be a large man (over 6 foot 4 inches) and was a farmer, timberman and politician north of Winnfield. The Winn Parish history book reports that Richard was the Sheriff of Winn Parish from 1874 to 1884. In 1892, he ran for Governor of Louisiana on the Populist ticket and won Winn Parish with 1,001 votes. He was the first elected mayor of Winnfield in 1898. Elizabeth and Richard had 8 children: George Milton Tannehill 1877–1940, Herbert N Tannehill 1879–1961, Clarence Eugene Tannehill 1881–1963, Richard Lafayette Tannehill 1884–1929, Ena Tannehill 1886–1895, Lena Tannehill Pace 1886–1976, Elizabeth Tannehill Walsh 1888–1977, Ella May Tannehill Hardtner 1890–1980. Their 7th child, Elizabeth Tannehill Walsh, often called Bessie, was Don Walsh’s grandmother. The only known relatives of Elizabeth Tannehill active in our church is Don’s widow, Shirley Walsh.[i] After Marie Elizabeth died, Richard Tannehill remarried Lula Dee Long and they had ten more children.[ii] Richard and Lula are buried together in Winnfield City Cemetery. While we don’t have any church records from that era, I’m told that Elizabeth was a member of the Methodist Church. We are unsure if Richard was a member of the Methodist Church.
As I was doing my research I wondered why Elizabeth was buried west of town while Lula and Richard are buried in the Winnfield Cemetery. Donovan Hearne Walsh writes this on genealogy.com. “Richard Lafayette’s parents (David & Nancy) came to Winn Parish with them. Three sons died at Tannehill, as did Nancy, and were buried there. Later, the cemetery was moved to Jerusalem Cemetery at the request of the area’s first railroad (Arkansas railroad, later Rock Island RR). At that time period the public wanted railroad transport desperately and accommodated their wishes. These graves were put in one grave marked “Grandmother.” A Nancy M. T. marker was added later. R. L. Tannehill made this move and his remaining brother, Louis Monroe T., objected causing a large disagreement. :.M.T. is buried at Winnfield Cemetery, as is R.L.T. -Donovan Hearne Walsh[iii]. The move of this cemetery for the railroad explains why Elizabeth is buried west of Winnfield. The Tannehill’s have left us a rich history of service to God, state, and community as well as a wonderful gift in this beautiful window.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” Heads of wheat symbolize bread, and the Holy Communion. Also the wheat represents the good crop, the faithful, and the tares are the weeds, the wicked. (Matt. 13).
Perhaps more than any other grain, wheat has established a reputation as both a culinary staple and a cultural symbol. It has been cultivated since the very beginning of human history, and today is one of the most widely grown crops on earth. In the ancient world, wheat was a symbol of abundance, life, and fertility. Wheat has also served as an emblem for deities associated with these notions, such as the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, gives us the word “cereal”, which in its original usage referred to grains.
Wheat is associated with rebirth and resurrection. This is due to the grain’s nature; when wheat sprouts from the soil after the barren season and grows into the mass of stalks that will feed the people throughout the year, it’s easy to see the phenomenon as new life emerging from the throes of death. In Christianity, the resurrection aspect of wheat is also on display, albeit more subtly. The Eucharist, the bread that becomes the body of Christ during communion, is sometimes represented as wheat, or paired artistically with grapes, symbolizing the wine of communion (i.e. the blood of Christ).[iv]
Wheat also plays a prominent part in one of Jesus’ parables in Matt. 13:24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 ” ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 ” ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” (NIV)
In Matthew 13:24-30, we find a parable of Jesus explaining the kingdom of God. In this parable Jesus is calling into question the customary practice of pulling tares, or weeds, out of a crop. [v] In this parable, wheat represents believers instead of the “weeds” or “tares”, which represent unbelievers. Wheat may also be used to represent the bread in Holy Communion and, further, the Body of Christ.
Wheat is also mentioned in John 12:23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (NIV)
Then in John 6:48 Jesus says I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (NIV)[vi] The wheat reminds us of Jesus’ parables, rebirth, resurrection, and the bread of life Jesus Christ.
B: Christmas Rose
The Christmas Rose represents the Nativity of our Lord. Deep significance is derived from its survival through the centuries’ in spite of snow and storms. It blooms just at Christmas time.
The Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is, ironically, not even a rose but a member of the buttercup family. It gets the common name, Christmas rose from its resemblance to wild roses with its large flat flowers on short stems, it produces white and occasionally pink flowers standing around 9-12 inches in height. Its natural habitat can be found up in the mountainous regions of Switzerland, Bavarian Germany, Austria, Northern Italy and Croatia but can grow in any well drained garden soil and is hardy even in the most shaded of areas. It is a true Christmas plant as it flowers in the depths of winters to early spring but don’t pick it as it is highly poisonous and even touching it can cause skin irritations.
The Christmas rose is heavily associated with Christianity and the birth of Christ through a little Sheppard named Madelon. As Madelon tended to her sheep one cold and wintry night, Wise Men and shepherds passed by Madelon’s snow-covered field bearing gifts for the Christ Child. Following, Madelon saw the Magi present gold, myrrh and frankincense to the baby…even the humble shepherds had brought fruits, honey and doves to give to the babe…but Madelon had nothing, not even a simple flower for the Newborn King. Standing outside the stable where Jesus had been born, poor Madelon wept, wishing that she had a gift she could carry to the infant. A watching Angel, taking pity on Madelon, caused the snow at the feet of the small girl feet to vanish, thus revealing a most beautiful white flower whose petals were tipped with pink, formed by the Angel from the tears which had fallen from the eyes of the little shepherdess. Overjoyed, Madelon presented her gift at the manger of the baby Jesus…her gift of the Christmas Rose.[vii] A lovely legend of the spirit of Christmas for a beautiful flower.[viii] By tradition, the Christmas Rose should be planted by the door in order that it might welcome Jesus Christ into the home.[ix]
One subspecies of the Christmas rose blooms at the abbey in England believed by some to have been established by St. Thomas. There is a source that claims it blooms near the calendar date of 6 January. This date had been Christmas Day under the old Julian calendar. So when Christmas Day under the new calendar came around and the flower did not bloom, it was such a frightful omen that England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar at that time in 1588; adoption had to wait until 1751.[x]
The Christmas Rose reminds me of one of my favorite Advent hymns, a German hymn translated into English titled Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. The hymn’s origins may be traced back to the late 16th century in a manuscript found in St. Alban’s Carthusian monastery in Trier in the original German, “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.” The original stanzas (sources list at least 19 and as many as 23) focused on the events of Luke 1 and 2 and Matthew 2. The origin of the image of the rose has been open to much speculation. For example, an apocryphal legend has it that on Christmas Eve, a monk in Trier found a blooming rose, maybe a Christmas rose, while walking in the woods, and then placed the rose in a vase on an altar to the Virgin Mary.[xi] The original verse had 23 stanzas, our hymnal has 3, and the version that I’m going to play for you has 2 verses. If you would like to follow along, you’ll find the hymn on page 216 of our hymnal. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming The Christmas Rose reminds us of the gift of Jesus at Christmas and the legend of a little shepherd girl’s gift to the newborn king
C: Cross with Faith Hope and love
The Calvary Cross with the steps of Faith, Hope and Charity is also called the graded cross. The anchor at the left is a symbol of hope “sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19). The Bible is again pictured with the Cross. Two other books in the Protestant church call sacred associations to mind—the hymnal and The Book of Worship.
We spent quite a bit of time discussing the symbolism of Faith, hope and love, 2 weeks ago in the Wren window. So I will hit the high points and focus on what is different in this window.
The Tannehill window features a graded cross. The three steps leading up to this Latin cross represent the hill of Calvary or, more often, faith, hope and love. 1Cor. 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (NIV)
As in the Wren window, often when faith, hope, and charity are shown together the cross represents faith and often stands taller than the other symbols. Faith is the confidence and the strength to believe in something or someone larger than ourselves. The symbols of faith, hope and charity together in harmony remind us that God is there to help us each and every day.[xii]
The anchor represents Hope. It was a relevant popular symbol at a time when seafaring meant that a loved one may never be seen again. At a time when danger was typical for travel, the anchor represented hope for home in this life and in the life to come.
Charity is often represented by the heart, though in our window it is symbolized by an open Bible. Charity is a derivative of ἀγάπη (agapē), the word used by the English translation of the Bible in the 16th century. Charity represents the idea the believers should strive to love God and to love others as God loves them. Charity symbolizes the desire to love everyone, including one’s enemies, neighbors and the poor. Charity cannot be achieved without faith and hope because charity is love for all.[xiii] Faith, hope, and charity go together to teach us about our faith and the way that we should live.
We love our stained glass windows and we should. But what do people see in us? Does the light of Christ shine through? Wheat reminds us of Jesus’ parables, rebirth, resurrection, and the bread of life Jesus Christ. The Christmas Rose reminds us of the gift of Jesus at Christmas and the legend of a little shepherd girl’s gift to the newborn king. The graded cross of faith, hope, and charity go together to teach us about our faith and the way that we should live. The Elizabeth Tannehill window reminds us of her faith and generosity. The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?