Our newly built high school building opened into a commons area that served as cafeteria. Shortly after the first day of that school’s very first year, art teachers and students proposed a grand plan — filling one entire wall of the large common space with a mural fitting for our new school.
Scaffolding in place, painting began and proceeded slowly — very slowly — until the grand plan for our school’s lunch room mural was abandoned for a much simpler artistic vision.
One very old dining hall features along one wall the most famous mural ever painted. Stretching about 30 feet long and nearly 15 feet high, a portion of this painting was removed long ago to create a door to the kitchen.
This mural, painted 520 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci, graces a monastery dining hall in Milan, Italy. This mural is an acclaimed masterpiece, revolutionary in technique, loaded with Trinitarian and Scriptural symbolism, and brilliant in artistic balance, visible and moving even in its faded and frequently restored state.
This mural is a masterpiece, depicting Jesus at table with his disciples just as he reveals that one of them will betray him.
A masterpiece. A shame that this mural’s familiar title is SO unfitting — “The Last Supper.” Perhaps we can see why some might consider “The Last Supper” a fitting title. After all, the crucifixion and death of Jesus occur merely hours after the scene Leonardo depicted. This is a last significant moment before our world is changed forever by Jesus.
However, a few days after this meal, the risen Jesus breaks bread and stuns disciples along the road to Emmaus. Shortly afterward, Jesus serves and shares breakfast with Peter and others on the beach. His communion with his disciples goes on and on.
Actually, the meal Leonardo portrayed is when Jesus institutes a new communion with him, a meal the living Lord Jesus has hosted and shared with his disciples from that time until now.
You will not find any reference to a “last supper” in the New Testament. Jesus’ communion meal is not the last anything. What Jesus serves and shares with us is the LASTING Supper.
Jesus provides the divine meal deal Isaiah prophesied long ago in a time of spiritual drought and famine:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and expend your efforts for that which does not fill or fulfill? Instead of empty calories, eat what is truly nutritious… so that you may abide with me in everlasting covenant. (paraphrase of Isaiah 55:1-9).
This is THE Psalm refrain: The steadfast, sure love [hesed] of God is from everlasting to everlasting.
When we partake and draw in our living Lord’s gifts, we are united with him and one another in new and renewing ways. In John 15:16, Jesus promises that when we abide in him, we will bear fruit that lasts. Jesus urges us to draw from his loving Spirit so that we will no longer hunger or thirst.
Julian of Norwich wrote: “I witness no kind of vindictiveness in God, not for a short time, nor for long. For, as I see it, if God were vengeful, even for a brief moment, we would never have life, place, or being. In God are endless friendship, space, life, and being.” [emphasis added]
With all appreciation for Leonardo’s artistic genius, for disciples of Jesus Christ, there is no last Supper but the endless giving of God for the people of God. In Jesus Christ, God pours out everlasting love and thereby sustains for the long haul, strengthens us in hard time, and shows us the way to life everlasting.
Not last, but LASTING, thank God.