FROM MILAN TO MINNESOTA, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painting continues to leave its imprint. For more than 500 years, this rendition of Jesus’ final meal with his 12 disciples has held a sacred place among those of the Christian faith, including me.
And in one small rural Minnesota church, the painting inspired a re-enactment which debuted in 1963 via a script penned by the then-pastor. Members of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, present an annual “Drama of the da Vinci Painting of the Lord’s Supper.” This year’s drama is set for 8 pm on April 2, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
I’ve attended this long-running monologue of each disciple and their relationship with Christ many times. Although the script and music remain the same, the actors change from year to year. Yet, there’s a consistency in that, too, with many of the men switching parts, perhaps taking a year off. I recognize actors’ surnames like Bauer, Keller, Little, Meyer, Wiegrefe and another Keller (Craig) always at the organ.
There’s a sameness to St. John’s presentation of “The Last Supper.” And that is comforting. The darkening of this 1800s limestone church. The mood-setting music. The disciples processing in to sit at a long table set before the altar. The statue-like poses. The spotlight focus on each disciple. The bold, sometimes heart-wrenching, monologues. The emotion. The pain. Then the spotlight shifting to the empty chair representing Christ.
Even after seeing this drama many times, I pick up something I haven’t in prior viewings. I always exit the sanctuary feeling reflective, emotional, even a bit sad. The tone is set for the beginning of Holy Week, transitioning to Jesus’ crucifixion and then, on Easter, his joyful resurrection.
This tradition at St. John’s is part of this congregation’s history. Part of their faith heritage. And a gift to the greater community. To settle into a pew in this country church and watch the drama unfold is to appreciate da Vinci’s art in a way that touches the soul.
FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault. The drama will also be live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling