On this Maundy Thursday I wanted to share an image of Jesus at table with his disciples. The carving below shows all twelve disciples — it’s a bit hard to see John, whose head is lying in Jesus’ lap. What makes this depiction of the Last Supper unique is the identity of the disciple at the center of the piece — the one receiving the bread from Jesus’ hand. Who do you think that is?
Here’s a hint: He’s holding a moneybag in his hand.
This artwork is called the “Holy Blood Altarpiece.” It’s a reliquary, meaning that it was built to hold a relic, which is a drop of Jesus’ blood. The drop of blood is in a vessel above this panel. The altarpiece was carved by Tilman Riemenschneider at the beginning of the Reformation, and is a very large piece, still in its original installation in southern Germany. I really don’t know much else about it.
But I find it quite moving that an artist would put Judas at the center of this work, below Jesus’ shed blood, inviting the viewer to identify with the disciple who betrayed Jesus. So often we shy away from comparing ourselves to this betrayer. Judas is certainly a complicated figure and most Christians push away from him. Yet Jesus washed Judas’ feet, and included him in the sacrament of the supper. Like all of us, Judas is literally beneath the mercy seat in this depiction.
I learned about this artwork last Sunday, when I attended church with my parents, at Church of the Servant, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the Adult Ed hour, there was a presentation of Lenten-related artwork by Professor Craig Hanson, from Calvin College. What a gift to learn and listen!