In the mausoleum at the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, there is a life-size wax sculpture of The Last Supper. No one seems to remember the artist responsible, but every time I see it I am captivated by its intricate details and moving renderings of the famous moment between Jesus and his disciples.
The sculpture is inspired by Da Vinci’s painting, but much, much better and without all of the supposed “hidden” messages. I’m not a theologian or a historian, so I can’t speak for the accuracy of the painting or the sculpture. What I can attest to is the impact the sculpture has on me every time I see it.
I am most amazed by the intricate facial expressions on each full-scale character. If I spend enough time studying each figure, I notice that each of the disciples seem to be expressing emotions that are more familiar than I like to admit.
On the left side of the table, Bartholomew, James the Lesser, and Andrew seem appalled by something. In fact, Andrew’s hands are held up, his eyes wide, as if he is horrified. James seems to be leaning toward Andrew as if to say, Did you just hear what he said? Judas’s grimace is both convicting and convincing as he glares at Jesus while clutching the pouch of silver. Peter’s angry scowl is almost as stirring as he seems to step toward Jesus, ever Jesus’s bodyguard and righter of wrongs. John’s eyes are closed, and not in a way that seems relaxing or restful, but rather resignation or even defeat.
On the right side, things aren’t much better. Matthew and Thaddeus both seem perplexed by Jesus’s words. Both are looking at Simon as if for answers. Matthew’s arms are extended towards Jesus. I can hear him saying, Can you believe this? What does he mean by that? Simon’s hand are also up, as if in a confused Don’t ask me gesture. Next to Matthew is Philip, who seems to be the most anguished of all, brow furrowed, hands held close to his heart. Thomas, like many of the other disciples, seems to be searching for answers across the table, but his famous finger still points upward as if he knows where the true answers lie. Finally, James the great looks as if he is backing away in disbelief. You can’t be serious, Lord?
Seven of the twelve disciples are standing, as if something Jesus has just said brought them from their chairs, an uncustomary gesture during any meal, especially one as sacred as the Passover meal.
But Jesus. I have cried on more than one occasion while studying this sculpture. His head is bowed. His eyes are closed. One hand is outstretched, palm up and open (a gesture I always viewed as a display of vulnerability and humility). His mouth is barely open, as if he is speaking softly or is about to speak. He seems…calm. I like to imagine the words “Take this…” being spoken in a voice that resembles a composed whisper. Maybe the disciples barely heard it. Or they heard it, but they didn’t understand or want to believe what he said.
How often do I face something Jesus brings to me and I react in ways that mirror the emotions of these disciples? Feelings of confusion, anger, disbelief, concern, defeat, distress, uncertainty, shock. How often do I look to others, as many of these disciples do, for validation and affirmation of these feelings? Can you believe this? This is absurd. Is Jesus serious? He can’t mean what he’s saying. You agree, don’t you? As I read the Gospels, I am struck more and more by the things Jesus asks of his followers, of me, and my heart breaks every time I read and think, You can’t be serious, Lord. I often make excuses and wait for someone to say, You don’t really think that’s what Jesus means, do you? so I can say Can you believe that? He doesn’t really expect me to do that, does he?
I don’t mean to idolize a sculpture, but it did teach me more about how I should react to Jesus’s words than any sermon or Sunday School lesson has ever taught me. When I feel doubt, fear, disbelief, anger, concern, distress, defeat, uncertainty, confusion, or shock, I can remember that I am not alone. And it is comforting that eleven of these men (I’m excluding Judas) went on to take Jesus seriously and become true followers.
I hope I can do the same.
I found a picture of the sculpture taken by Laura Boggess (lauraboggess.com). I will post it here, but in order to get the real feel of it, you must see the real thing: