"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" - John 15:13
"The Last Supper" 1497-98, Leonardo da Vinci
I find it sadly appropriate that the greatest of all Last Supper paintings, Leonardo's fresco in the monk's refectory in Milan, began to fade almost as soon as it was painted. Insatiable of experimentation, Leonardo tried an innovatory technique for this painting; it did not work, and restoration has been incessant ever since. Why I think this fresco's fading is appropriate is because what happened at the Last Supper exceeds our human understanding. Jesus gave his Church the Eucharist, a mystical means of communion with his risen body. If Christians received this Holy Communion just once in their lives, with what awed reverence they would prepare for that unimaginable moment. Yet, because the gift is offered at every Mass, we can miss the transforming power of this most holy sacrament. Leonardo shows the loneliness of Jesus. He is giving himself, crowning his life of loving sacrifice, yet the fresco shows the apostles as more concerned with his accusation of betrayal. That betrayal was almost incomprehensible, humanly speaking, yet the eucharistic gift is infinitely more mysterious.
The brothers John & Charles Wesley were a dynamic duo. John, the community-organizing preacher with administrative gifts. Charles, the poet-theologian who used his gifts to teach a people to sing their faith. The two of them very different, and yet, diverse members of the one body of Christ. Charles penned several poems and hymns that draw us to prayerfully consider the mystery of the Eucharist, or Lord's supper.
Eucharist is the greek word in the New Testament for the meal that God gave his people, the Church. It's a compound word; 'Eu' = good, and 'charis' = gift. This meal is God's good gift to his people. He gives us his body & blood. It's not unusual to translate this word 'thanks giving', serving the dual purpose of conveying the spirit in which the meal is given AND the proper way it is received.
One of Charles many hymns on the Eucharist is “O the Depth of Love Divine” :
1 O the depth of love divine, the unfathomable grace! Who shall say how bread and wine God into us conveys! How the bread his flesh imparts, how the wine transmits his blood, fills his faithful people’s hearts with all the life of God!
2 Let the wisest mortals show how we the grace receive; feeble elements bestow a power not theirs to give. Who explains the wondrous way, how through these the virtue came? These the virtue did convey, yet still remain the same.
3 How can spirits heavenward rise, by earthly matter fed, drink herewith divine supplies and eat immortal bread? Ask the Father’s wisdom how: Christ who did the means ordain; angels round our altars bow to search it out, in vain.
4 Sure and real is the grace, the manner be unknown; only meet us in thy ways and perfect us in one. Let us taste the heavenly powers, Lord, we ask for nothing more. Thine to bless, ’tis only ours to wonder and adore. Source: The United Methodist Hymnal # 627
Spend a few moments in prayer, slowly digesting the verses from this sacred Hymn. Is there a line or phrase, a stanza, that stands out, draws your attention, makes you wonder?
Why, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed does he welcome ALL of his disciples to table, including Judas?
For a man who appears to have a strong sense that he is about to die, why is it so important to him to gather around a table and share a meal with his friends?
This meal was at the time of the Jewish festival of passover. What is that story again?
We've spent this year looking a little closer at John's gospel in particular. A gospel, who's beginning is marked by the phrase, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29
Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.