This Advent, with our Christmas Eve Communion service in mind, I’ve pondered Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco, “The Last Supper.” I remember a joke I once saw on the internet. Jesus enters a restaurant with the twelve and says to the host, “A table for 26, please.” “But there are only 13 of you,” the host replies. And Jesus answers, “Yes, but we’re all going to sit on the same side.”
I chuckled. It’s funny. But the joke at da Vinci’s expense misses the artist’s ingenious intent. I’ve seen art by far lesser painters depicting people sitting all around a table, everyone and everything on the table visible. Da Vinci undoubtedly had the skill to paint The Last Supper that way. His name appears on any list of great painters. He could, but he didn’t. Why?
I leaned in. I’m no art critic, but I noticed the placement of the bread on the table. There’s bread near Jesus’ left wrist. There’s bread on the plate in front of the disciple with both palms upheld. I think that’s a piece of bread tucked up against the maroon robe of the fourth disciple from the right. All that bread makes sense to me. But what about the bread carefully placed along the near edge of the table where no one is seated? Odd artistic choice, right?
Then it hit me. In da Vinci’s fresco, Jesus didn’t ask for a table twice the needed size because he was bad at math, and da Vinci didn’t paint thirteen people on one side because he couldn’t show us everyone and everything with six or seven figures’ backs to us. “The Last Supper” is not a depiction of Jesus’ meal with the twelve; it’s an invitation to Jesus’ meal with the twelve. That oddly-placed bread is ours if we will but walk up to the side of the table left open for us. That’s so good!
Incarnation means God shows up. Emmanuel means “God with us.” Our Christmas Eve Communion ritual reminds me of da Vinci’s art. Shepherds keep watch from the back. The light settles down front. The bread and cup point to Jesus’ presence. The near edge of the table is ready if we will but walk up to the side left open for us. That’s so good!
Christ is here. Take and eat. Remember.
Rev. Zachary L. Bay, Pastor
Pastoral Ponderings is a brief, weekly email from Rev. Zach Bay. You are invited to peek behind the curtain of the pastor’s study at what he is reading, thinking about, and working on this week. Pastoral Ponderings may be a set of loose threads of thought or a well-wrought article. It may be only a paragraph, but it will never be more than 400 words. Feel free to click reply and write back anytime. Zach enjoys hearing from you.
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