On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread[a] into the bowl[b] with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Last Supper
Rainer Maria Rilke
[On seeing Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper", Milan 1904.]
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.
To this last supper he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.
There isn’t much for me to add to Rilke’s poem. The disquiet, the loneliness, the confusion, it's all there. It is most common to remember this story for the communion ritual it spawned, the bread and wine that is life, hope, and comfort for so many. But I read this story and I am anxious. It is the last meal between friends who have spent every moment together for years. The end of something, the totalizing way all things have to end. Thankful for that, and I hate it so much. Those disorienting moments where you know this is it. They eat and talk and debate all around Jesus, all the while he knows what is about to happen, what he must do. Being isolated in the mind after a break up, an illness, a death, or reasons unknown. The prophesied betrayal takes the meal to a wholly different place. They get defensive, but each one has a moment of self-doubt. Am I capable of something like that? Do I know just how amazingly possible it is to both be God and the devil? I've seen it in others.