Window 16: IHS

The monogram "IHS" is perhaps the most commonly viewed but little understood images in Christian worship spaces. Diverse interpretations abound. Growing up, I heard folks say that it meant "In His Service", assuming that these were letters from the English alphabet. When I first went to seminary and became a (decidedly) amateur church historian, I wondered if the letters were Latin and stood for In Hoc Signo (In This Sign), which is short for the battle cry of the Knights Templar: in hoc signo vince, meaning "in this sign [we will have] victory."  The Templars believed that no army bearing the Holy Cross could be defeated. They were disastrously mistaken. Indeed, their theological ineptitude, hubris, and unchristian cruelty account for the failure of the Second Crusade and the poor relations between Christians and Muslims to this day… but, I digress. The letters are not English or Latin, but Greek. They are the first three letters in the Greek spelling of the name Jesus: I (J) H (E) s (s). As you will note, I have shown the "s" here in lower case, in reference to a typographical error which has crept into the monogram over time. The letter "s" in Greek in lower case would come at the end of Jesus' name, not in the middle. More ancient renderings of the monogram in the Latin West have it more properly in "all caps" as "IHC" where the "C" is a latinization of the Greek capital letter sigma: ?. In the end, and despite all the paleographic confusion, all we need to remember is that both monograms - "IHS" and "IHC" - represent the name of Jesus. We see them most often emblazoned on crosses. IHS also is the image depicted in Window #16, all the way forward on the east side of the sanctuary. The letters are interwoven, with the I and S in red and an incomplete H shown in gold. Along with the letters, the colors have significance as well. The gold symbolizes the glory and kingship of Jesus and the red symbolizes his blood and sacrifice. This makes a particular theological point: the kingship of Jesus is inseparable from his self-emptying sacrifice on the Cross. Altogether, the image calls to mind the famous scripture from Mark's gospel in which Jesus responds to the presumption of James and John who wish to sit at his side in glory:

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mark 10:41-45)

Now the window has given us a prayer to pray every time we see the monogram of Jesus' holy name: "Lord Jesus, make me the servant of all, that your redeeming love might be made known through the life I lead in the power of your name." If we all took Jesus at his word and lived this prayer, I believe there would only be standing room in this church on Sundays. 
~ JBC


Contact Us:
Ionia First
United Methodist Church
105 East Main St
Ionia, Michigan
48846
Phone: 616-527-1860

E-mail: ioniafirst@gmail.com
Office hours:
Monday thru Friday
9 AM-11:00 AM

Ionia First United Methodist Church
Sunday Service 9:30 AM

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