|Salvador Dali, The Sacrament of the Last Supper, 1955, oil on canvas|
I was a teenager when I first encountered this painting. As I recall, it was an illustration on a New Age catalog I'd gotten in the mail. Though I was still Roman Catholic at that time, I also thought of myself as a 'seeker,' a term that it turns out the evangelicals also used. I was struck by the illustration, and was drawn to the imagery. At the same time, I felt somehow guilty, because it differed so much from typical Catholic iconography and the common depiction of the last supper. In the context of a New Age catalog I assumed it was somehow offensive to Christian belief. It was only a few years ago that I finally learned that Salvador Dali, a devout Catholic, painted it late in his life. The young me had no reason to feel bad about it, in any case.
There is Jesus, breaking bread and sharing the cup with his disciples. Their heads are bowed, but is it in shame, awe, sincere prayer, something else, or a mix? The image of the chest and arms clearly point to the belief that Christ is present in the Eucharist. To Catholics that's very literal, meaning the bread and wine truly become his body and blood, while keeping their appearances of bread and wine. Protestants, other than Anglicans and Lutherans, generally have it that these are symbols.
In the background is a body of water and a few boats, evoking memories of the ministry of Jesus along the sea of Galilee and thereabouts, which is now coming to a close. That landscape, by the way, is actually Catalonia.
The writer of the Gospel of John emphasized love, a recurring theme in the Johannine scriptures. He placed the love of Jesus for his disciples, and theirs for him and also one another, prominently in the context of this final meal. Most religions call us to be better versions of ourselves and to love one another. That we keep failing is not an excuse to stop trying. As a Unitarian Universalist, I have no creed in common with my fellow UUs, but we do have a covenant. A relationship exists that must be maintained, through thick and thin. As everyone else, we also fall short in this regard. Still, we keep trying.