THOUSANDS OF MILES from Milan, Italy, in the flat farm fields of Rice County in southeastern Minnesota, Leonardo da Vinci has left his mark on a small congregation.
For 50 consecutive years, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented The Last Supper Drama, a theatrical interpretation of the master artist’s most famous painting created in 1495 as a mural in an Italian monastery.
Palm Sunday evening I joined a sanctuary full of worshipers to view the drama which inspires and moves for its touching, personal account of Christ’s last meal with his 12 disciples. In the script written so many years ago by a former St. John’s pastor, each of Jesus’ followers speaks of his personal relationship to the Lord.
In the reverent near-darkness of this late 1800s limestone church, the cast, in loud, clear, animated voices and with gestures fine-tuned by years of practice and presenting, truly bring to life da Vinci’s painting. They speak of their failures and deaths, of their love for Christ.
“Be not faithless, but believing,” advises doubting Thomas, played this evening by Thad Monroe.
Claims Don Katra as Matthew: “My life really began when I met and followed Him.”
Even Gordie Wiegrefe as Judas the betrayer, admits, “It was too late. They wouldn’t take the silver back. I failed my Lord.”
The moment when Christ announces that one of his disciples will betray him is the precise moment da Vinci captures in his painting. In St. John’s performance, the defining moment of betrayal comes when Judas slams a jingling bag of 30 pieces of silver onto the table.
Later, after the drama concludes, St. John’s Pastor Lora Sturm tells worshipers, “Let us feel the light of His love as we enter the darkness of this Holy Week.”
That message resonates as a spotlight first illuminates a cross suspended above the altar in the dark sanctuary, then moves down to an empty chair representing Christ and finally pans out to shine upon all 12 disciples. It is how the drama opens and ends, impressing upon attendees the darkness of Holy Week which concludes on Sunday in the glorious light of the resurrected Lord.
FOLLOWING SUNDAY’S 50th anniversary performance, special recognition was given to those who have been part of St. John’s The Last Supper Drama. Original 1963 cast members Wallace Hildebrandt and Luverne Hafemeyer stood up to applause.
Other 50-year history trivia includes:
- Seventy individuals have participated in the drama since 1963.
- The role of John has been played by 10 actors.
- The youngest actor was Kyle Keller who in 2011 assumed the role of Philip.
- The oldest cast member was Kyle’s grandpa, Arnold Keller, who was 76 years old when he last acted in 1997.
- Nine individuals have performed 20 or more times in the St. John’s drama.
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling