Maundy Thursday, otherwise known as Holy Thursday, is the beginning of a busy weekend for Christian churches. Really, the whole week is packed with holy days — starting with Palm Sunday — that are marked by traditions.
This season is heavy on symbolism, “but symbolism is what makes it rich,” said the Rev. David Tinney, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Vancouver. The church is doing a live rendition today of what took place during Jesus’ final meal; it’s a fusion of what’s relayed in The Bible and what Leonardo da Vinci conveyed in his painting The Last Supper.
In the famous mural, Jesus sits at the center of a long table flanked by his 12 disciples, who are reacting to his declaration that one of them will betray him. da Vinci’s mural was completed in 1498 on the refectory wall at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
Maundy Thursday commemorates this final meal before Jesus was crucified, which people can’t think about without envisioning da Vinci’s painting, said Gary Carter, outreach and program director at First United.
There are differences between da Vinci’s version of the Last Supper and what historians believe actually happened, Tinney said. He said the disciples were probably sitting on the floor, not in chairs, they didn’t have glassware, and women were present. The Bible, which was edited by men, likely edited out the women that were always around Jesus, helping him, Tinney said. On the table was believed to be figs, olive oil, lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs such as arugula and dandelions, and wine.
Did you know?
Sixty-one percent of people in Washington identify as Christian, according to Pew Research. One percent of people say they’re Jewish.
The story has been interpreted a hundred different ways, said the Rev. Richenda Fairhurst of Camas United Methodist Church, who’s singing during today’s performance.
During the play, each disciple will come out into the audience and give their reaction to the news of betrayal. Their narratives give the audience a chance to understand what the disciples were going through and, perhaps, place themselves in the story, Tinney said.
Jesus will also break the bread — all gluten-free — and the audience will be invited to take communion.
Church member Scott Hansen was cast to play Jesus, a “big responsibility” that’s come with a high stress level, he said. Hansen said he’s spent hours memorizing the lines because he normally wears thick glasses, which would clash with the historical setting, so he won’t be reading from a scroll like other characters.
“If I’m sleeping, I’m dreaming the part,” Hansen said. “This really brings it home to your heart when you’re doing this.”
The meal was supposed to be a Passover Seder with everyone eating matzoh, unleavened bread, according to the tradition. But, because Jesus essentially rewrote the script, he imbued the meal with new meaning, Tinney said.
“We forget our heritage is so Jewish,” he said. Easter and Passover are entwined.
For Jews, Wednesday marked the start of Purim, a joyous holiday celebrating how the Jewish people were saved from being exterminated. This year, Passover starts April 22.
Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; twitter.com/pattyhastings; email@example.com