Restore Us, O God!

In 1980 a decision was made in the Vatican to restore the frescoes inside the Sistene Chapel where art works many of us have seen in books are painted upon the walls.  Most renown are the works of Michelangelo…that famous picture of a man’s finger reaching out to touch the finger of God…or is it the other way around?  Years of salt seepage and candle burning had reduced the once brilliant colors to shades of gray. 

The paintings are from the late 1400s and early 1500s. To put it in perspective, our church has been here for 60 years and the observant can see the wear and tear on this beautiful sanctuary.   The Sistene chapel, by 1980, had been standing for 480 years.  That’s a lot of time for the building to shift, the colors to darken, restorers from other generations to make mistakes, and the minerals in the building to seep through to distort the paintings. 

To do the job right, the restorers put in place a set of aims of restoration.  In reading these aims we see all the kinds of things that have happened over the years to fade out the colors.  They promised

To study the frescoes progressively, to analyse any discoveries and utilise the appropriate technical responses.

To record every step of the operation in archival reports, photographs and film.

To use only those procedures and materials which were simple, extensively tested, not harmful, and reversible.

To repair cracks and structural damage that threatened the stability of the plaster.

To remove layers of grime consisting of candle wax and soot that had been deposited by the burning of candles in the chapel for 500 years.

To remove repainting by previous restorers that attempted to counteract the effects of soot and other accretions.

To remove oil and animal fat used to counteract salination of areas where water had leaked through.

To remove crystalline accretions of salt that had whitened areas where water had leaked through.

To conserve surfaces that were in danger of further deterioration because of bubbling, and flaking.

To restore sympathetically those areas where deterioration of one sort or another had obliterated details and caused loss of integrity to the whole, for example, filling a bad crack and painting the plaster in a colour matching the original.

To maintain in small defined areas a physical historical record of the previous restorations that had taken place.

Quite a lot of damage had been done to what was once a beautiful creation of human heart and hands. 

I’m sure many a faithful person, many an art lover, many a seeker entered into that chapel prepared for wonder and wept when they saw variations on gray.  Out of the passion to see again what had been created, to restore what once had been lost, human hands and minds got busy. 

Tears are evident in the call of the Psalmist who too cries out for the return of the beautiful faith which has become lost underneath layers of grime, mistakes, and the ways of the earth. 

4O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?  

5You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

I wonder…had the people’s prayers become monochrome?  Had they lost the color of a people who was truly, passionately, seeking God in all of their lives?   When God entered into the temple where the relationship between God and humankind was to be the most colorful, did God weep because the prayers no longer had any passion?  When humankind entered into what should have been a chapel of beauty, could we no longer feel deeply enough to reach out toward our God? 

You have fed them…with the bread of tears, sings out the Psalm. 

Such an image evokes the manna that fell from the sky during the Exodus.  Here, instead of feeding with the faithful with the bread that shows that God is surely present and caring for God’s people…God feeds them with the bread of tears…a bread that signifies loss and absence and loneliness. 

While we could get all worked up about why God would make us cry…let me suggest that

Tears are a gift from God.  They tell you where you most need restoration…where  you most need God’s love.   

The Psalms cry out for restoration.  The people want the color of their lives restored.  They want to be drawn beautifully again by the God who gave them life.  For they understand that without God’s restoration, they will fade away. 

7Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Restoration is a huge commitment.  To restore the paintings to their former beauty, the restorers had to get close.  They could not figure out exactly what they needed to do until they built the scaffolding that allowed them to look closely at frescoes.  They had to handle each one differently, depending on what grime covered the painting. 

As the restorers, so too God.  God cannot restore creation from heaven. 

God comes down, God gets close, close enough to touch us, to clean us up from all the grime, to shine a new light that we may be saved.

Since we are living frescoes, with freedom of movement, we have to make a commitment to our own restoration…no artist can paint on a canvas that refuses to sit still.

I was reading an article advising those in recovery of any kind of how to get through this season which often moves in and out of excess.  I thought it was so good I posted it on my Facebook page.  In the list of 10 there were 3 references to prayer…be intentional about starting your day in prayer, if you fall off the wagon pray and start again—remember God forgives, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed  find a quiet place, close your eyes, and breathe.  Prayer is a way to allow God to redraw you, to restore you to the one God imagined when you were knit together in your mother’s womb. 

And on the same list there was a reference to something I suspect we often don’t think about in our individualistic society.  When going into an emotional situation, bring a friend.  If you have a friend ask you to come with…be a friend, go.  It gives courage to have someone stand by your side. 

It is not only David, the mighty warrior king, whose voice we hear in the Psalms.  It is the voice of a community:

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved

Every time we speak these words we join our voices with that of a community of faith that reaches back at least to 700 BCE whose tears brought them to look again to God for hope…a hope that they may be recreated, restored, and renewed.  

They understood that, even then, there was too much grime for them to see themselves clearly.  They needed God’s hand to restore their life.  Perhaps you need that too, today.  As I pray for you, I hear that there are some here who are blocked from doing what they want; from what they need; from moving forward in their lives because there’s a spiritual matter they’ve not yet addressed.  Often spiritual matters are entwined with our past.  You can’t go forward until you go back.  While we want to simply do what the world says we must do…suit up and show up…let me challenge those of you who will hear me…to turn to God and ask what God would have you do first.   

It is a matter of life and death…of fading into nothingness or shining bright the designers creation. 

I’m here for you.  I’m ready to pray, to help you heal, to challenge you to new ways of living.  If I get stuck, I will find the one who can help you move forward.  

Have courage, my friends, you are not alone in your quest.  You are part of a much larger painting…when you are brilliantly restored, you make us all the more beautiful. 

As Christmas people, we have testimony of God who happily chooses to enter into our lives.  God comes close to see what has covered our beauty.  God comes to feel how our hands and our hearts respond to love.  The restoration began, deep in the night, in the city of David, with the cry of a little baby. 


Psalm 80

1Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.

Stir up your might, and come to save us!

3Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.


4O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?  

5You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

6You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

7Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.


17But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

18Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

19Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

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