Super-Sized Last Supper

Just over three years ago a story came out suggesting that artistic portrayals of the Last Supper have been "super-sized." 
There were a number of thoughts that occurred to me on reading it: the first was to check the date just incase it wasn't an April Fool prank... the second was one of despair regarding the usefulness of such research and the money expended on it... but the third related to the statement that:
"Craig Wansink, who is a professor of religious studies, says the changes in portion sizes is probably a reflection of culture rather than theology."
To how many things could that be said? And tonight, as people share, not in an artistic representation of the Last Supper, but a liturgical re-enactment of it, how much of what is said and done has been influenced more by culture than theology? Is the liturgy shared by the congregation, or predominantly led from the front? How much of that is out of a desire for extempore, Spirit-led worship (even tho' extempore communion services are often as predictable as printed ones) or a function of a church history where many in congregations were functionally illiterate? Do you kneel at a communion rail or do servers come to you? Are those actions shaped by a theology of humility, or of grace; or are they shaped by pride or pragmatism? Do you use a common cup or "shot-glasses" and are they functions of theology, tradition or hygiene? The latter is more likely among those who have taken the decision to use non-alcoholic grape juice, but was that decision based on theological niceties regarding the use of alcohol or our responsibilities to alcoholic friends, and if the latter is the case do you also use gluten-free bread for the sake of coeliacs among us? But for those who have gone down the non-alcoholic route, let me just say that there can be NO theological, liturgical, cultural or pragmatic justification for using blackcurrant cordial... Ever...
But the simplicity of bread and wine symbolising the sacrifice of Jesus to achieve the reconciliation of humanity and God, stands in stark contrast to the complexity of theology and culture, liturgy and societal norms that shape so much of what passes for religious practice. 
Tonight, due to my current sabbatical, for the first time in over 17 years I will not be presiding at a communion service marking the last supper... Instead I'll be staging a devotional event at East Belfast Mission.
But for me, it is usually the most poignant service of the year, as we first share in that simple symbolic meal of bread and wine, before reading one of the gospel accounts of what happened after that last supper and before Christ's crucifixion, while the front of the church is stripped of all symbolism bar the cross, the lights are gradually extinguished and the congregation leaves the sanctuary in silence...
For me, the sense of being alone with my thoughts whilst in the midst of others speaks powerfully of where Jesus was on the night before he died... It's something that no artistic representation can ever hope to capture, super-sized or not... 
So if you do join us at East Belfast Mission tonight, please don't consider me rude if I leave without talking...

Shalom

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Woman of no Distinction

Advent Candle Liturgy 5: Christmas

An Epistle To Our Elected Leaders