da Vinci’s Last Supper: a communion meditation

Do you ever feel inadequate or unworthy when the worship service comes around to communion time?  Have you ever shifted uncomfortably in your seat when that somber moment arrives to help us remember Christ’s sacrifice for our sins?  Why would you do this for me, Jesus?  What’s so special about me, God?

Perhaps you learned you should abstain from taking communion if you’re struggling with your Christian walk.  Maybe your week didn’t go so well, or you’re grappling with on-going work, family, health or financial issues; and you find yourself grumbling to God.  Sometimes our busy schedules make it impossible to keep up with daily Bible reading and prayer, and we feel out of touch with God.  And surely, you’ve heard of other Christian congregations who only receive communion once a month to prevent it from becoming routine, thereby diminishing its importance and impact.  Has communion become routine for you?

Consider what Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper might remind us about this seminal event, which we celebrate and remember at communion time.  Although not authoritative since it was painted in the late 15th century, it is the famous artist’s representation of the last supper as recounted in the Gospel of John and depicts the moment when Jesus announced that one of the twelve would betray him.

Interestingly, the Gospel of John largely skips over the portion of the last supper that we celebrate today as communion, focusing instead on several long, well-known passages and prayers that form the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  But, the context in which Christ spoke those words must never be forgotten—the first-ever celebration of communion where God’s covenant with mankind changed in a very fundamental way.  With that in mind, it is instructive to consider what we might learn from the people involved and the environment in which this blessed event took place.

Looking first at Jesus in the center of the picture:

  • he looks calm & composed despite his full knowledge of what was about to happen
  • despite the Apostles’ imperfections, he called them to follow him, he washed their feet (even Judas!) and prayed for them

Do you ever doubt Jesus’ ability to understand your life or empathize with your circumstances?

The twelve Apostles look like us:

  • Thomas has doubts
  • Judas is discouraged, hides a secret (that was just let out of the bag!)
  • Peter wears his heart on his sleeve & speaks before thinking
  • James & John (sons of Zebedee) are ambitious (or momma’s boys)
  • Matthew (former tax collector) probably wonders what he got himself into
  • The Apostles are arranged in groups of three, suggesting perhaps there may have been cliques among them—the fishermen, the tent makers, the farmers, etc.
  • In modern parlance, one or more of the Apostles may have grabbed their phone and sent a hasty “#WHAT?” or “#GodIsNotDead” in response to Jesus’ prediction.
  • They rush to ask, “Surely not me?” instead of seeking to understand the underlying meaning behind Jesus’ words

Do any of those traits sound like you?

The environment da Vinci depicts in the painting is also telling:

  • Upstairs room wasn’t fancy—poorly lit & little decoration
  • Attendees weren’t wearing their Sunday best
  • Food wasn’t noteworthy (other than the symbolism of the bread & wine), no feast
  • Table wasn’t ornate—not much more than a slab of plywood sitting on sawhorses

Does that environment reflect your house and tastes?

Again, the painting is not a portrait of the actual event when it took place, but the conclusions we can draw from it are likely very accurate: Jesus is in charge; his close associates weren’t handsome, well-dressed model citizens and the environment in which the celebration of communion was instituted isn’t notable in any exquisite interior design sense.

As imperfect as each one of us may be, the reality is that God sees those of us who put our faith in Jesus as perfect:

  • “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”(John 1:12-13).
  • Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us the Holy Spirit was given to us as a deposit that guarantees our inheritance. As heirs of God, we have an inheritance that no one can take from us.
  • Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).
  • For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14).
  • Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
  • Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But, we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

Therefore, there’s no need to wallow in our perceived inadequacy or question our self-worth during communion time.  Thanks to Jesus’ work, God sees each believer as a fully forgiven heir to his kingdom, and we look forward to the literal #BestDayEver when he comes again to take us with him to the place he prepared for each of us in heaven.  That’s the lesson all believers should take from this special time of communion.

Let us pray:

My God, while your Word indicates we are not to partake of communion in an unworthy manner, the truth is we are all unworthy in one way or another.  It is precisely because of our inadequacies that we hunger to draw close to you and thirst for the refreshment that can only come from the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Eating this tiny wafer and drinking this small cup of juice is our weekly reminder of the grace and mercy you extend to everyone who calls upon your name.  That is what you called us to remember at the Last Supper, and that is what we celebrate at communion time in this small corner of your mighty kingdom.

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Don’t discount “Numbers”

I admit it.  There are some books of the Bible I enjoy reading and studying more than others.  Yes, I play favorites with God’s Word.

In a general sense, I enjoy the books that read like a story more than their “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” relatives.  That goes for both the Old and New Testaments.

The Book of Numbers is no exception.  To the uninitiated, the title seems foreboding – a warning that dusty census records, cumbersome rules and step-by-step job descriptions await – certainly that is true to some point.  But those who patiently wade into the text and persevere through 36 chapters will find memorable treasures and interesting tidbits that make it one of my favorites.

Here are some highlights:

  • Chapters 2&3 recount how God arranged the tribes of Israel when camping and traveling.  This was not some unorganized mob!
  • Chapter 5 includes the test for an adulterous wife.
  • In chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron conspire against their brother, Moses.
  • Chapters 13 & 14 include the well-known story of the 12 spies in the Promised Land and how Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who remained faithful.  This is also where God declares 40 years of wandering in the desert as punishment.
  • In 15:32-36 we learn just how serious God is about keeping the Sabbath.
  • Could the earth actually swallow people or fire consume them?  Check-out chapter 16.
  • Chapter 17: God doesn’t just chooses a leader.  He does it with style!
  • Why couldn’t Moses enter the Promised Land?  Find out in chapter 20.
  • Medical personnel and hospitals are often adorned with an image of two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.  This is called a “caduceus,” introduced in chapter 21.
  • A talking donkey is featured in chapter 22.
  • Chapter 27: God appoints Joshua to succeed Moses.
  • God establishes the rules around vows and the circumstances under which they can be broken in chapter 30.
  • Chapter 32: Some of the Israelites settled on the east side of the Jordan River.
  • Have you ever tried to track progress on a long car trip using a map?  Chapter 33 traces each step of the Israelites’ 40 year journey to the Promised Land!
  • The Promised Land’s boundary lines are established in chapter 34.
  • Chapter 35 establishes cities of refuge where someone who kills another person accidentally can expect a fair trial and protection from revenge.

Make it a point to study this gem – the Book of Numbers!