March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12: 1-14; Psalm 116: 1, 10-17;1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b - 35

The Rev. James M.L. Grace

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

          When I try to imagine the Last Supper in my mind, the final meal that Jesus shares with the disciples the evening of his arrest, the image that most often comes to my mind is Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper which is in the refectory, or eating hall, of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.  Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is arguably one of the world’s most recognizable paintings.

           Yet, Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper is certainly not the only depiction of this meal.  There are countless other paintings and illustrations of the Last Supper that reflect every imaginable cultural and ethnic nuance.  Years ago I read an article about these paintings and drawings of the Last Supper, and the article highlighted a surprising trend.  And the trend is that in all these paintings of the Last Supper, the physical size of the main course on the table – the food Jesus and the disciples were eating – increased by sixty-nine percent over the past few centuries.   

            But it’s not just the main course that has increased all these years.  The same article also revealed that the size of the bread on the table grew by twenty-three percent.  In summary, the article stated that over a period of one thousand years, the Last Super portion size became “super-sized,” or if you are a Whataburger aficionado like myself, the Last Supper, artistically at least, is now “what-a-sized.”

            Why the increase in the portion amounts of the Last Supper paintings?  The article suggested that over the centuries food has become increasingly more abundant, available, and cheap to produce.  Which leads me to another painting of the Last Supper I wish to share with you – one that is likely less familiar than Da Vinci.

            Though this depiction of the Last Supper is modeled exactly after Da Vinci’s painting, and everything is the same as Da Vinci’s setting: the room, the people, the clothes.  It’s all the same, except for one thing: the food.  In this modern Last Supper painting the traditional cuisine of the time is replaced with a modern counterpart: fast food.  Instead of a plate in front of Jesus, there is a paper bag with a McDonald’s logo on it.  The disciples are eating Big Macs, French fries, and sipping milk shakes.  Judas Iscariot is eating a double cheeseburger.

            Is the painting a commentary on the commercialization or mass production of the church or religion?  Is it an indictment of a culture that is obsessed with ease and convenience?  I don’t know.  But I love the painting.  I don’t find it offensive.  I find it human.  Of course the fast food packaging inserted into Da Vinci’s painting in place of the original food is tacky, but it is also deeply spiritual, as it reminds us that the Last Supper, the meal Jesus shared with the disciples, is timeless.  Yes, it happened in history over two thousand years ago, but it continues to happen again and again whenever Christians gather to share bread and wine in observance of that final meal. 

            For me, the Last Supper doesn’t belong in history – it belongs out of history, so that yes it makes sense to see 15th century Italian people eating cheap, mass produced, unhealthy, and chemically-laden 21st century fast food.  It makes sense to me because in the Eucharist, what has past becomes present.  Like the water that is poured into wine, the past and the present dissolve into one.  For me the Last Supper is a myth.

             When I say the word “myth” I am not talking about an old story that about something that never actually happened.  That is not myth.  A myth is a true story,  in fact a myth is the most true story, about something that has happened and continues to happen again and again. 

            Whoever that artist was that created that depiction of the Last Supper, incorporating Da Vinci’s famous setting with modern fast food fare, was in my mind not heretical, but brilliant.  Brilliant because the holy moment of Eucharist allows the Last Supper to be mythical: to happen again and again and again.  It will happen once again here this evening, as we gather around this table to share bread and wine. 

            We come to this table because we are hungry.  We have a spiritual hunger, a spiritual need that brings us back to this table again and again.  We return to this table because we are part of the story, we are the myth.  Our appetite for truth is larger than one here visit will allow, which is why we return to hear the story again, because it is here, where we learn from each other and from God, who we are.

            We are hungry and restless people.  We hunger for a truth that is “supersized” – a truth that will fill the emptiness that exists inside all of us.  Where is it?

            Perhaps you might find it if you choose to remove your shoes and allow a complete stranger to wash your feet.  Maybe you will uncover the truth when a small flat piece of bread that is somehow part of God is placed into your hand.  More than likely you will find God’s truth in whatever it is that is hurting you most right now.  That seems to be how God works, and that seems to be true of Holy Week.

            In any case, we have stepped into the myth.  We have become the story, we and we are becoming, by God’s grace alone, more true.  AMEN.