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The Last Supper

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The Last Supper


The Last Supper is the final meal that, according to Christian belief, Jesus shared with his Apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion.[2] The Last Supper is commemorated by Christians especially on Maundy Thursday.[3] Moreover, the Last Supper provides the scriptural basis for the Eucharist also known as "Holy Communion" or "The Lord's Supper".[4]

The First Epistle to the Corinthians is the earliest known mention of the Last Supper. The four canonical Gospels all state that the Last Supper took place towards the end of the week, after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and that Jesus and his Apostles shared a meal shortly before Jesus was crucified at the end of that week.[5][6] During the meal Jesus predicts his betrayal by one of the Apostles present, and foretells that before the next morning, Peter will deny knowing him.[5][6]

The three Synoptic Gospels and the First Epistle to the Corinthians include the account of the institution of the Eucharist in which Jesus takes bread, breaks it and gives it to the Apostles, saying: "This is my body which is given for you".[5][6] The Gospel of John does not include this episode, but tells of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles, giving the new commandment "to love one another as I have loved you", and has a detailed farewell discourse by Jesus, calling the Apostles who follow his teachings "friends and not servants", as he prepares them for his departure.[7][8]

Scholars have looked to the Last Supper as the source of early Christian Eucharist traditions.[9][10] Others see the account of the Last Supper as derived from 1st-century eucharistic practice[10][11] as described by Paul in the mid-50s.

Major events in

Jesus' life
in the Gospels

Terminology

The term "Last Supper" does not appear in the New Testament,[12][13] but traditionally many Christians refer to the New Testament accounts of the last meal Jesus shared with his Apostles as the "Last Supper".[13]

Most Protestants use the term "Lord's Supper", stating that the term "last" suggests this was one of several meals and not the meal.[14][15] The term "Lord's Supper" refers both to the biblical event and the act of "Holy Communion" and Eucharistic ("thanksgiving") celebration within their liturgy. Evangelical Protestants also use the term "Lord's Supper", but most do not use the terms "Eucharist" or the word "Holy" with the name "Communion".[16][17]

The Eastern Orthodox use the term "Mystical Supper" which refers both to the biblical event and the act of Eucharistic celebration within liturgy.[18]

Scriptural basis

The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples is described in all four canonical Gospels (

Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, [11:23-26]] which was likely written before the Gospels, includes a reference to the Last Supper but emphasizes the theological basis rather than giving a detailed description of the event or its background.[6][5]

Background and setting

The overall narrative that is shared in all Gospel accounts that leads to the Last Supper is that after the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem early in the week, and encounters with various people and the Jewish elders, Jesus and his disciples share a meal towards the end of the week. After the meal, Jesus is betrayed, arrested, tried, and then crucified.[5][6]

Key events in the meal are the preparation of the disciples for the departure of Jesus, the predictions about the impending betrayal of Jesus, and the foretelling of the upcoming denial of Jesus by Apostle Peter.[6][5]

Prediction of Judas' betrayal

Main article: Jesus predicts his betrayal

In

Institution of the Eucharist

Main article: Eucharist

The Eucharist, which "is recorded as celebrated by the early Christian community at Jerusalem and by St. Paul on his visit to Troas", is held to have been instituted by Christ. [Acts 20:7]][7]

The institution of the Lord's Supper is recorded in the three Synoptic Gospels and in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. The words of institution differ slightly in each account, reflecting a Marcan tradition (upon which Matthew is based) and a Pauline tradition (upon which Luke is based).

A comparison of the accounts given in the Gospels and 1 Corinthians is shown in the table below, with text from the ASV. The disputed text from Luke 22:19b-20 is in italics.

Mark 14:22-24 And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, ‘Take ye: this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’
Matthew 26:26-28 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.’
1 Corinthians 11:23-25 For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.’
Luke 22:19-20 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave to them, saying, ‘This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you.’

Jesus' actions in sharing the bread and wine have been linked with

Although the Gospel of John does not include a description of the bread and wine ritual during the Last Supper, most scholars agree that

Prediction of Peter's denial

Main article: Denial of Peter

In

Elements unique to the Gospel of John

In John, Jesus has his last supper and is executed not on the day Nisan 15 (the first night of Passover) but on Nisan 14, when the Passover lambs were slaughtered. Presumably the author preferred this date because it associated Jesus as the Lamb of God with the sacrificial lambs of Passover.[27]

In this episode, Apostle Peter objects and does not want to allow Jesus to wash his feet, but Jesus answers him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me”, [Jn 13:8]] after which Peter agrees.

In the Gospel of John, after the departure of

At the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives an extended sermon to his disciples. [John 14-16]] This discourse resembles farewell speeches called testaments, in which a father or religious leader, often on the deathbed, leaves instructions for his children or followers.[31]

This sermon is referred to as the Farewell discourse of Jesus, and has historically been considered a source of Christian

Time and place

Date

Scholarly estimates for the date of the crucifixion generally fall in the range AD 30-36.[33][34][35] Physicist Colin Humphreys rules out the year 36 on astronomical grounds.[36] He presents other grounds for holding that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred in the afternoon of Friday, 3 April 33, and says that this was 14 Nisan in the official Jewish calendar that year.[37]


The Gospels say that Jesus died on a Catholic Encyclopedia.

In the 1950s Annie Jaubert argued that, while in the year of Jesus' death the official lunar calendar had Passover begin on a Friday evening, a 364-day year was also used, for instance by the Qumran community, and that Jesus celebrated the Passover on the date given in that calendar, which always had the feast begin on Tuesday evening.[39] More recently, Humphreys, who holds that the "Palm Sunday" entry of Jesus into Jerusalem occurred on Monday, not Sunday, argued that the Last Supper took place on the evening of Wednesday 1 April 33.[40][41] If the Last Supper was on Tuesday (Jaubert) or Wednesday (Humphreys), this would allow more time than in the traditional view (Last Supper on Thursday) for interrogation of Jesus and his presentation to Pilate before he was crucified on Friday.

Location

Main article: Cenacle


According to later tradition, the Last Supper took place in what is called today The Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion, just outside of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, and is traditionally known as The Upper Room. This is based on the account in the Synoptic Gospels that states that Jesus had instructed a pair of unnamed disciples to go to "the city" to meet "a man carrying a jar of water", who would lead them to a house, where they would find "a large upper room furnished and ready". [Mark 14:13-15]] In this upper room they "prepare the Passover".

No more specific indication of the location is given in the New Testament, and the "city" referred to may be a suburb of Jerusalem, such as Bethany, rather than Jerusalem itself. The traditional location is in an area that, according to archaeology, had a large Essene community, a point made by scholars who suspect a link between Jesus and the group (Kilgallen 265).

Saint Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem is another possible site for the room in which the Last Supper was held, and contains a Christian stone inscription testifying to early reverence for that spot. Certainly the room they have is older than that of the current coenaculum (crusader - 12th century) and as the room is now underground the relative altitude is correct (the streets of 1st century Jerusalem were at least twelve feet (3.6 metres) lower than those of today, so any true building of that time would have even its upper storey currently under the earth). They also have a revered Icon of the Virgin Mary, reputedly painted from life by St Luke.

Bargil Pixner[42] claims the original site is located beneath the current structure of the Cenacle on Mount Zion.

Theology of the Last Supper

St. Thomas Aquinas viewed The Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit as teachers and masters who provide lessons, at times by example. For Aquinas, the Last Supper and the Cross form the summit of the teaching that wisdom flows from intrinsic grace, rather than external power.[43] For Aquinas, at the Last Supper Christ taught by example, showing the value of humility (as reflected in John's foot washing narrative) and self-sacrifice, rather than by exhibiting external, miraculous powers.[43][44]

Aquinas stated that based on

Calvin also believed that the acts of Jesus at the Last Supper should be followed as an example, stating that just as Jesus gave thanks to the Father before breaking the bread, [1 Cor. 11:24]] those who go to the "Lord's Table" to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist must give thanks for the "boundless love of God" and celebrate the sacrament with both joy and thanksgiving.[48]

Remembrances

Main article: Maundy Thursday


The institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is remembered by Roman Catholics as one of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, the First Station of the Scriptural Way of the Cross and by most Christians as the "inauguration of the New Covenant", mentioned by the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilled at the last supper when Jesus "took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'" [Mk. 14:22-24]] [Mt. 26:26-28]] [Lk. 22:19-20]] Other Christian groups consider the Bread and Wine remembrance to be a change to the Passover ceremony, as Jesus Christ has become "our Passover, sacrificed for us", [1 Cor. 5:7]] and hold that partaking of the Passover Communion (or fellowship) is now the sign of the New Covenant, when properly understood by the practicing believer.

These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in the Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church; at these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name "Eucharist" is from the Greek word εὐχαριστία (eucharistia) which means "thanksgiving".

Early Christianity observed a ritual meal known as the "agape feast"[49] These "love feasts" were apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing food, and with the meal eaten in a common room. They were held on Sundays, which became known as the Lord's Day, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion.

Possible parallels

Raymond Brown has argued that during the Jewish Passover Seder, the first cup of wine is drunk before the eating of the (unleavened) bread, but here it occurs after. This may indicate that the event was not the first Passover Seder (which occurs on Nisan 15), and hence more in line with John's chronology which places it on Nisan 14, although the meal could easily have been altered during the Last Supper for symbolic or religious purposes. Among Christian denominations, the Eastern Orthodox Church holds that this Eucharistic meal was not the Passover Seder, but a separate meal.[50] The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) documents also specifically reject the Seder arguments and state that given that no Jewish Seder texts exist earlier than the 9th century, it is historically implausible to attempt a reconstruction of the Seder to create a parallel to the Last Supper, and that the Gospel accounts clearly indicate that the purpose of the Last Supper was not the annual repetition of the Exodus.[51]

The fifth chapter in Quran, Al-Ma'ida (the table) contains a reference to a meal (Sura 5:113) with a table sent down from God to ʿĪsá (i.e., Jesus) and the apostles (Hawariyyin). However, there is nothing in Sura 5:113 to indicate that Jesus was celebrating that meal regarding his impending death, especially as the Qur'an insists that Jesus was never crucified to begin with. Thus although, Sura 5:113 refers to "a meal", there is no indication that it is the Last Supper.[52]

Historicity

Some scholars consider the Lord's supper to have derived not from Jesus' last supper with the disciples but rather from the gentile tradition of memorial dinners for the dead.[53] In this view, the Last Supper is a tradition associated mainly with the gentile churches that Paul established, rather than with the earlier, Jewish congregations.[53]

Luke is the only Gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples to repeat the ritual of bread and wine.[54] Bart D. Ehrman states that these particular lines do not appear in certain ancient manuscripts and might not be original to the text.[55]

However, many early Church Fathers have attested to the belief that at the Last Supper, Christ made the promise to be present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, with attestations dating back to the first century AD.[56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63] The teaching was also affirmed by many councils throughout the Church's history.[64][65]

Artistic depictions

Main article: Last Supper in Christian art

The Last Supper has been a popular subject in Christian art.[1] Depictions of the Last Supper in Christian art date back to early Christianity and can be seen in the Catacombs of Rome. Byzantine artists frequently focused on the Apostles receiving Communion, rather than the reclining figures having a meal. By the Renaissance, the Last Supper was a favorite topic in Italian art.[66]

There are three major themes in the depictions of the last supper. The first theme is the dramatic and dynamic depiction of Jesus' announcement of his betrayal. The second theme is the moment of the institution of the tradition of the Eucharist. The depictions here are generally solemn and mystical. The third major theme is the farewell of Jesus to his disciples, in which Judas Iscariot is no longer present, having left the supper. The depictions here are generally melancholy, as Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure.[1] There are also other, less frequently depicted scenes, such as the washing of the feet of the disciples.[67]

Well known examples include Leonardo da Vinci's depiction, which is considered the first work of High Renaissance art due to its high level of harmony,[68] Tintoretto's depiction which is unusual in that it includes secondary characters carrying or taking the dishes from the table[69] and Salvadore Dali's depiction combines the typical Christian themes with modern approaches of Surrealism.[70]

See also

Citations

References

  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall 1990 ISBN 0-13-614934-0
  • Bultmann, Rudolf The Gospel of John Blackwell 1971
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9
  • Linders, Barnabas The Gospel of John Marshall Morgan and Scott 1972

External links

  • "Last Supper" on Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
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