In the masterful complexity of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (1477–83), a cast of figures surrounds the selected scenes of Salvation history: sibyls, prophets, ancestors in the genealogy of Jesus, angels, caryatids, and personifications of classical architecture. Among these, we spot Isaiah the prophet, who turns with surprised consideration to two angels behind him. One of these angels guides his attention with intensity to the scene above them: preparations for Noah’s ark. In today’s Lectionary readings, Isaiah and Noah again find each other side by side.
In Michelangelo’s depiction, Isaiah looks on the brink of a new thought, an inspired insight that reveals God’s grace in the course of history. As a prophet, his call was to invite God’s people with him into these moments of inspiration. Accepting his invitation, we wonder: was he thinking of Noah’s ark, resting atop Mount Ararat, when he handed on the vision of God’s holy mountain? In Isaiah’s vision, all people stream toward this holy mountain, a holy place of peace and reconciliation, where swords become ploughshares and spears become pruning hooks. Is this also a place where we might find our solid ground, after the rain and flood, storm and tempest? In these Advent days, what brings us up God’s holy mountain?
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.