Bringing Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” To Life

By April 16, 2019

Read this story and more in CONNECT Magazine | 2019 Lent Edition

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Over the past several years, we’ve started our Maundy Thursday service in the Sanctuary where we learned about the underpinnings of this infamous Passover Seder meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. With the help of the lectures of Dr. Jim Fleming on the real last supper, we learned about the triclinium — three tables arranged in a u-shaped formation — and the specific order of seating for each of the disciples representing places of honor, servant, and co-host. We also learned that the shocking assignments Jesus made gave the scene an even more profound meaning.

Then we moved to Wesley Hall where many tables were set for communion — each one a replica of the original triclinium formation, set with place cards for the disciples to further help our reflection on that original communion of our Christian faith.

This year, however, we’re going to depart from the authenticity of the triclinium to tell the story of the Last Supper in a way we’ve never told it before, returning in our imagination to the more iconic view of the Last Supper portrayed in Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance masterpiece, which is easily one of the most important and influential paintings to Christians worldwide. In a deeply intimate look into the story of Jesus’ last meal with his Disciples, the original eucharist, this year our church will offer a very special Maundy Thursday experience, “The Living Last Supper.”

In this remarkable theatrical work created in 1953 by Ruth Elaine Schram, the scene of the Last Supper, set against the backdrop of the original da Vinci Painting, will depict Jesus’ last meal with his Disciples, the men he chose to be at his side that night before he was crucified, will be brought to life in our Sanctuary. We’ll meet, one by one, the Disciples who dined with and shared communion with Jesus on his last night on earth.

“The idea for this particular production was suggested to me in the fall of 1953 by a Church Organist in Petersburg, Virginia who had seen a group of local men portray Jesus and the Twelve Apostles in what was called “A Living Picture of The Last Supper” based upon Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting,” Schram writes. “During the next two months I studied da Vinci and his inspiring picture and then proceeded to write the soliloquies for the Twelve Apostles as they might have expressed themselves immediately after hearing the Master say, ‘One of you will betray me, whereupon each man had cried out, “Lord, is it I?’ This was the moment Leonardo said he wished to capture in his infamous painting.”

We’ll learn each of their stories, including things we may have never fully understood about the different perspectives, feelings and thoughts of each of the original Twelve Disciples. You may even find that as a Disciple of Jesus in today’s world, you may share some of the same thoughts and concerns that each faced as he contemplated the impending death of Jesus and his responsibility to carry on his messages, his teachings, and his model for living.

Professional Actress, First Church and Choral Union member Mary Grim, who has taken the lead in adapting the scripting, choreography, and direction of this exciting new format for presenting the Last Supper story on Maundy Thursday, says that the events that took place on Maundy Thursday become so real and so much more poignant when we can watch these apostles in their robes sitting with Jesus and telling us their story. “The colors, the sounds, the relationships are much more meaningful when we watch an actor take on a character’s journey,” Mary says. “I saw this production performed almost 25 years ago and was so moved. So, when we decided to add a drama element to Maundy Thursday, this seemed like the perfect idea. I am so excited for the congregation of First Church to go on this journey with these disciples on Maundy Thursday. They will be transported.”

Mary adds that even if you think you know the whole Last Supper story, you will be surprised and delighted at how this live production brings to light so many things you may have never thought of or considered before about this story. “It just presents The Last Supper in a new angle that will impact you and add meaning and a spiritual reconnection with the true significance of The Last Supper to this service you’ve probably never felt before.”

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