Some of you may be familiar with the old Charlton Heston movie called The Agony and the Ecstasy where he portrays the life and times of artist and sculptor, Michelangelo. I was a kid the first time I watched this movie but, it was deeply moving to me. If you haven’t seen it, you should, it’s a classic! The storyline follows the formidable process of creating the Sistene Chapel ceiling. One soon develops a real appreciation for how he made that ceiling happen.
Since that time I have actually been to see the ceiling of that chapel in Rome and it is mind-boggling to think how that wildly gifted man accomplished and created that amazing work of art. I’m not even in the same neighborhood …or, the neighborhood next to the neighborhood where Michelangelo’s ballpark was. However, I did spend more than a few years as an averagely-talented muralist and painted a few very simple ceilings myself. Let me explain how this process works because much of this hasn’t changed much since the Renaissance!
First, of course, one has to receive the commission. One has to get –in this instance– the Catholic church to come into some degree of agreement on what they want painted up there and come to terms on the payment. Thankfully, I never had to worry about the prospect of excommunication if somebody got cranky with my work!
Then, in stage two, one starts sketching. The artist begins to have meetings whereby the sketches are presented, discussed, re-hashed, erased and re-drawn until everybody is satisfied. Occasionally, one may get a patron who says, just do what you like- I know it will be awesome! But, ordinarily they want what they want…even when they don’t know what they want!
So finally, the idea’s are all agreed upon and everybody is happy and signs off on the project on paper. Now the tricky part starts. I worked in modern days with sturdy ladders and scaffolding and halogen lights and with reliable paints and brushes that I did not have to make myself. Not so in Michelangelo’s day. He had a rickety system of wooden scaffolding lit by drippy candles. He now had to sketch the elements of the ceiling to larger than life scale, piece at a time on paper, and then haul it up to the heights. The fresco plaster had to be applied in just the right depth and amount of area for the paper to be patted on to it. A series of holes were tapped through the paper outlining the drawing, to be followed by a process of fluffing the charcoal dust into the holes and creating a cartoon in black and white on the damp plaster.
Immediately, the paper is pulled away and the paints and pigments must be applied by brush as quickly as possible before the plaster dried. If one side dries more quickly than the other then the paints don’t absorb or hold the same tone and everything looks a little whonky. If a mistake is made in any of these steps…if paper”A” did not line up with paper”B” on the ceiling correctly, then it all had to be scraped off and then begun again with fresh, wet plaster. If the cardinals or the Pope came in and disapproved some aspect of his creative genius then that portion had to be scraped down to the base and begun again.
It is said that it took Michelangelo and his team, once they began on the ceiling, over 4 years of constant work to complete that stunning body of art. I don’t believe his eyesight was ever the same after working on his back so close to the heavenly work he created. Michelangelo wanted to express,through this work, the relationship-the love- that God was reaching out to man from heaven. And, his most iconic, and identifiable image of God’s hand reaching out to Adam does just that.
One can take a portion of the whole and appreciate the beauty, the vivid color and the particular piece or character from the Bible that that little section represents. However, from a further perspective in the chapel and now, of course, unimpeded by the labyrinth of obstructive scaffolding, one can fully take in the beauty of the thing as a whole. Not only is each small section wonderful but the interconnecting wonder of the entire ceiling is a storyline of actual and literary “Biblical” proportions. The richness and depth of color and shading, light and dark is awesome in any age; but to be achieved in primitive conditions and performed with speed as plaster dries without benefit of electric light or even to be able to back away to see if the perspective or the flow were perfectly joined is beyond my comprehension.
This is all very interesting and perhaps some of you who took Art History or have enjoyed a tour of the Vatican may already know the history here. While this is not a perfect metaphor, I bring this story to the table to make a point. This process was one that Michelangelo had learned. He knew that he could follow the map so to speak, and repeat the process over and over and eventually the enormity of his masterpiece would be visible to everyone. He had to break it down into manageable bite-sized pieces to tell the entire story.
Just so, is our yearly repetition of the celebration of the Seven Feasts. There are layers and depths of pigmentation that go far beyond our understanding. Every time we study the sacrificial nuances at Passover or those that the High Priest performed on Yom Kippur entering the Holy of Holies and flicking the blood with certain fingers, a certain amount of times onto the Mercy Seat of the Ark we learn something new. It is a fascinating process, just as the plaster is slapped on this ceiling or the original sketch is seen on a small sheet of paper. When we see it outlined on the ceiling in black and white we have a certain understanding. As we begin to go deeper into the process we understand that there is much more to learn. There was a clear, definitive, momentary meaning for the Israelite in their atonement for that particular year.
And there was a deeper Prophetic meaning that looked to the future that showed the folks the purpose of that blood, the Messianic blessing to all the families of the world that would flow from Yahweh’s Covenant promise to Abraham to us all ( Genesis 12:3) Every layer, every single nuance, points to Jesus!
Once each particular Feast is celebrated and we back away and look at the panorama of them all, we can see the plan of the ages. We see the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, our Messiah when he came the first time over 2000 years ago. We see the fulfillment of the Promised Comforter who came to empower and teach us at the Feast of Pentecost. We can see the multiple layering in each feast, celebrating the history of the Israelites leaving Egyptian bondage, and a series of activities to celebrate the various “harvests” through the year. All picturing a different side of the Messianic journey and purpose, by the way.
Now, we can move along to see the clear outline of the Fall Feasts which portray the Return of the Messiah who is coming in Power and Glory, and the following Judgment at some future Yom Kippur and the establishment of His Kingdom when He comes to Tabernacle or dwell with us at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Yom Kippur shows the plan of Atonement by the sacrificial blood on the Mercy Seat of God. We saw the “personal” application at Passover with the blood of the Lamb and now the”National” Judgment at Yom Kippur with the blood of the goat. The High Priest went into the Holy of Holies several times on this day. He made Atonement for himself, the priesthood, and then for Israel.
In this pictured plan,( Leviticus 16:8-34, Lev. 23:27-32 Hebrews 8 & 9) we see the foreshadowing of Messiah covering the sins of the Nation as he did the sin of the people at Passover. It is a decision, your decision, and he is not a bully. He has shown us the picture of the entire plan. It is a plan of love and grace and his Word fills in the blanks and all the questions. It is all there. No one can come before God in the Holy of Holies on his own merits, terms or her own agenda. We can never be sweet enough or good enough to be worthy of God’ s righteousness. Jesus is our High Priest as well as the sinless sacrifice.
These Feasts show us that He came to save us through His redeeming blood… and He is coming back. There is a day of Judgment coming. It may be sooner than we think. None of us has a guarantee on how may years we may have if the Lord tarries! Everyone who doesn’t have their name in the book of life will face that judgment. Are you covered by the Blood of the Lamb? Have you told him that you are sorry for your sins and want Him to be Lord of your life? That’s all there is too it, but it is an invitation that must be accepted or rejected. If you haven’t RSVP’d then you are rejecting the invitation!
Whether you look at the Feasts up close one by one or take all Seven as a whole: Or, if you look for that scarlet thread linking the Feasts all through the Old and New Testaments it is all a beautiful, elegantly-worked series of pictures that reveal the golden mean of the Master’s hand.
Yom Kippur is a thing of beauty. The shofar blows, the lots are taken on the two goats -both picture Jesus- one as a sacrifice to shed his blood and one to carry the sins of the nation away, the priest wears simple white linen and enters the throne room. Jesus lays his blood there in exchange for ours in a beautiful Masterpiece of Mercy. Just as the vibrant hues of paint soaked into the plaster on that Sistine ceiling, the story of the Feasts soaks into our being as we celebrate season by season.
I hope that you have accepted the King’s open invitation. The repetition of the Feasts is to make sure that we have that opportunity, at the very least, 7 times a year. These divine appointments assure that we appreciate the chiaroscuro effect of His redemptive plan, the perfect way that God reached out to his people with that Light of Messiah always in our vision. We keep the Feasts not out of legalism or religiosity. We keep them as lovely dress rehearsals with our Father. We keep them so that we will not ever be fooled by a cheap, photo-shopped version of His Plan. We honor the Feasts, and this day Yom Kippur, as multiple opportunities to visit His gallery to see and recognize the rich completion of the original Masterpiece as well as the Master, in whose image we were created!