Tag Archives: Last Supper

6th Sunday Easter (C) John:14:23-29

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan 1498

The Gospel reading for the 6th Sunday of Easter (C) comes from the account of the farewell discourse of Christ at the Last Supper, on the night before his death. As fits liturgically with the proximity of Pentecost, which marks the culmination of the Easter season, the coming of the Spirit is one of the themes of the Gospel for the 6th Sunday. There are other themes, recurring ones in John’s Gospel, of Jesus as the Word of God for the faithful, of the peace which only Christ can give and of the sorrow of Christ’s departure, as well as the theme of belief.

On one level, Leonardo’s painting of the Last Supper concertinas moments in the sequence of the announcement of Christ’s betrayal from John’s account in Chapter 13, with some details from the synoptics; there is Christ’s actual announcement, the denial and shock of the disciples, Peter leaning towards the Beloved Disciple to ask him to ask the Lord who he means, and Christ the handing of the morsel to Judas, However, on another level, Leonardo draws on the image of Christ and his message found in the whole of the Farewell Discourse (as chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel are known) as well as the whole Paschal Mystery for his painting of the Last Supper and the themes of this week’s passage may be found there too.

Leonardo drew on precedents by Ghirlandaio, and del Castagno, as well as others before for the basic composition of the Last Supper, with a central Christ and apostles arranged along each side of him at table, though sketches suggest he was experimenting with other possibilities. However, the dynamic movement away from the central figure of Christ in shock and denial at Christ’s words of betrayal and their consternation contrasted with the composure of Christ is his own. Leonardo achieves this through dramatic positioning of the figures and by the facial expressions of the apostles, juxtaposed with a serene expression of Christ.

Leonardo shows Christ touched with human tenderness and compassion for the disciples as at any moment of farewell, but there is also a deeper pain present at their lack of understanding of of what is taking place, compounded by their aggressive response to the announcement of betrayal. The painting works in a way analogously to the Gospel of John. There, the narrator, as one is reminded several times, is the Beloved Disciple who gives us a horizon of Resurrection belief beyond Christ’s death and the bewilderment we experience as we hear the Passion narrative unfold. Similarly, the Beloved Disciple in the painting is the only serene figure apart from Christ, and reveals the joy of the post-resurrection believer in Christ’s victory, right in the middle of Leonardo’s depiction of denial and all too human responses in the other disciples. The Beloved Disciple in Leonardo’s painting is the one whom the Word has found a home in, whose heart is not troubled or afraid, who lives in the Spirit, who has heard and keeps the Word that has been told and who believes.

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Christ the King, Last Sunday of Year B: John 18: 33-37

This Sunday the reading is for the final week of the year and does not come from Mark, but is chosen from John’s Gospel to fit the theme of the feast, which is Christ the Universal King. The chioce of gospel fits the understanding of Christ’s kingship being distinct and different from worldly kingship, at the same time situating it in the Passion and showing that its roots are in this action of God’s love. The panel we can see above, which shows the passage from the Gospel, is taken from the Maesta, originally on the high altar of Siena cathedral, one of the most ambitious altarpieces ever painted. Duccio painted the Maesta with a team of assistants between 1308 and 1311, when it was installed in a solemn procession in the Cathedral. The Maesta is two sided. The front is Mariological with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and of Christ’s birth around the central image of Mary seated in majesty with the Christ Child. The back, with its scenes of the Passion is Christological. This was seen by the clergy when seated around the chancel for the praying of the Office and also for the celebration of Mass.

This scene of Christ before Pilate for the Second Time is taken from the end of the top left row of the rear of the altarpiece. Duccio uses a conflation of the gospel accounts. The sequence of panels depicting the passion is to be read boustrephedonically, that is up, along, down and up and so on, with the sequence ascending. Duccio was careful to arrange the design of images in each panel to fit the overall design and movement of the narrative and to give a sense of balance so the scene moves from left to right. In this painting, from the far left of the work, the artist positions a large body of figures- the Pharisees and soldiers, on the left, behind Jesus as he faces Pilate, who wears the robe given him by Herod to ridicule him from the scene below.

One is struck by the isolation of Jesus, by the clusters of the Pharisees and soldiers who both act as single masses. Just as in Leonardo’s painting of the Last Supper the artist shows the singularity of Jesus and the movement away from Christ in the  groups of apostles, here we can see Duccio create a similar force. He clusters and positions the groups both close to but distinct from Jesus, fearful but, perhaps, deep down, curious about this figure. For what he is to do is something beyond human comprehension, and the strength and grace needed to do so unimaginable, but which shows love even beyond persecution.

Duccio seems to show Jesus leading humanity, albeit hesitantly, towards a different set of values from those of Pilate and the wordly power of the Roman Empire, towards kingship as service and love even at great cost.