THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST, SOLEMNITY
“… he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body’… this is my blood.” Mk, 14: 22&24
In 1594, an Italian renaissance artist by the name of Tintoretto, completed a masterpiece named The Last Supper. One of the many remarkable qualities of this painting is that it does not present this most memorable scene from the gospel as many others have. It is not a dark, hushed, awe inspiring atmosphere with the twelve apostles totally focused on Jesus amidst a silent sense of wonder and amazement.
Instead, this extraordinary piece of art is distinguished by angels swooping from the ceiling, some of the disciples watching Jesus attentively while others are engaging in conversation with each other, and Judas – the only one not pictured with a halo – perching awkwardly on the side of the table opposite everyone else.
What is most notable about this rendition of this famous supper scene, however, is all the additional activity in the room: serving people busying themselves with all their appointed tasks, other servants looking wistfully at the table that appears to have no room for them, a cat poking her nose into a basket of dishes, and a servant talking to a disciple who is holding up his hand to halt the servant’s speech, presumably so he can hear what Jesus is saying.
Busyness, distractions, interruptions, a tortured heart.
It sort of reminded me of our minds while we’re participating some 2000 years later in a re-enactment of that very same event: the Last Supper, which we now call the Mass. It’s easy for most of us to find ourselves somewhere in that Tintoretto painting. Like those people in the painting, we may discover ourselves approaching the Lord ’s Table with a glow of attentiveness to the moment. But we may also find our minds wandering, our hearts distracted, our focus elsewhere.
What Tintoretto is possibly suggesting in this painting is that our faith will never be perfect or complete, our love for others will falter at times, and our best intentions will weaken and fall flat over the long run.
Certainly, we often find ourselves at the Lord’s Table not with a glow of ardent love, but a scowl similar to that of Judas as pictured in this famous painting. Sometimes, like the one character in the painting, we have to halt the distractions of others around us so that we can attend to what Jesus is saying to us; other times we may find that we are the ones doing the distracting. Some of the time we may feel like those in the painting who yearned for a place at the table, but felt we didn’t belong. Or perhaps our distractions are caused by issues of crisis in our lives, the pain of terrible loss, the heartache of something affecting our family life, or the fear of having to face some perceived danger.
This lively, busy, distracting painting is a reminder to us all that currents of emotions, interruptions, distractions, and different points of view swirl under the surface for all of us from time to time as we approach the taking of the sacred bread and the drinking of the sacred blood.
But, here’s the beauty of this painting and of our life situation as believing people: Jesus is saying the very same words to you and to me today as he did so long ago to a room full of distracted, scared, half-believing, even treacherous people – take and eat; take and drink.
No matter what moods we bring with us. No matter what fears we are carrying in our hearts. No matter what distractions are holding our minds hostage. No matter what sins are shaming us. No matter what burdens are weighing us down. No matter what.
That’s what Jesus was telling those first disciples at his last supper with them – even the servants scurrying about, even those wishing to be first at the table, even Judas.
Take my body. Drink my blood.
This is what Jesus beckons us to do in the midst of all our busyness and all our heartaches. He asks us to join him in a meal. Or, to put it another way, if I’m allowed a sports metaphor, he asks us to call time out on the field, come together in a huddle around his table, and take his body and take his blood into the deepest part of our selves. He asks us to do this in the hope that we will find there the strength and the nourishment and the power to heal our inner brokenness, to spur us on to lives of compassion, and to create a heart so filled with conviction that it can deafen all the inner torments.
Wherever you may find yourself in Tintoretto’s painting, wherever you are in your personal faith journey, know again that you are invited to a meal – a meal where no one will go hungry, where all will be received with open arms, and where you will be given just one simple instruction:
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.