Looking at Holy Week through Art – Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sistine Chapel

The artwork I have chosen for this Holy Saturday is a very familiar one. It is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. It is known as a cornerstone work of High Renaissance art.

The reason I have chosen it for today is very personal. When I first had the privilege to visit the Sistine Chapel it was in the late 1970s. I saw this magnificent ceiling as it had been for generations. In 1980, renovations began on the ceiling, to rid of the layers of candle smoke, soot, and human pollution that comes with millions of visitors over the centuries. The next time I saw it, the ceiling was exactly half-finished. On the one side was the drabber, darker, non-renovated version. On the other side was the cleaner, brighter, renovated side.

My last visit there was just a few years back, and by then the renovation was complete. It was breath-taking in its freshness and color. It was almost as if you could see each stroke of the artist.

This experience is why I have chosen this work of art to tell the story of Holy Saturday. Today is no one’s favorite religious holiday. It lacks the darkness and the drama of a dying Savior. Nor is it bathed in light to celebrate a risen Lord. Its color is a liminal gray.

But it’s where we are, all of us. It’s the season that we are in. We stand today between the crucifixion and the resurrection; between the darkness and layers of what is old; and the vibrancy and newness of resurrection day. And so for today, we pause, we remember, and we prepare to make the transition from fear to faith; from sadness to joy; from death to life.