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Restoring a Masterpiece

I gained new respect for Michelangelo. I knew that I was supposed to think he was a great painter already. I had been told since I was a child that his frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were masterpieces. And I tried to feel reverent about them, but truth be told, they looked a little drab to me.

It turns out that I was right. What I had seen (probably you too) was not what Michelangelo actually painted. Five hundred years had allowed the original art to be covered by a heavy film of smoke from countless candles. Water stains discolored the frescoes and the plaster had cracked, leaving hairline fractures running through the scenes.

In December of 1999, after a twenty-year restoration project, the chapel was opened so that the public could see once again the great artist’s work as it originally appeared. What an incredible difference! The brightness of the colors, the vividness of detail! What had been lost to five centuries of grime was amazing to behold.

Many people also find church to be drab. They sense that they should feel more respect, but it’s just not there for them. Some stay involved from a sense of duty, but it doesn’t feel very vibrant to them. Others, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, are disassociating from organized religion in record numbers. They have concluded, it seems, that the image of Jesus they find there is unappealing.

Yet, those who first saw Jesus admired him. “And all the people were amazed,” Mark tells us (Mark 5:20). In 16 short chapters, he tells us 10 times that somebody was amazed by Jesus– sometimes by his miracles, sometimes by his teaching, and once, in Pilate’s case, by his silence when accused. People flocked to Jesus and loved him. Great crowds followed him.

If that is no longer the case, what happened? Has Jesus changed? Or might it be that those of us who are to be the body of Christ in today’s world have allowed his image to be sooted over?

Restoration is needed. We must look again at Jesus so that we ourselves are amazed. We must also look in the mirror with an eye toward changing anything there that doesn’t reflect Jesus.

One of our hymns says, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.” May it be so for each of us with increasing clarity.


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