Sunday, March 21, 2010

Last Supper

In honor of next Sunday (Palm Sunday) I present to you a little riff I did in 2007 from my church's pulpit on Palm Sunday:

As a confirmed humanist and nonbeliever in any deity, and as someone who has doubts about the very existence of Jesus in history, I felt that I would have some deep, meaningful remarks to share with you on the subject of bidding goodbye at the Last Supper.

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because it’s April Fool’s Day as well as Palm Sunday, but all I keep coming back to is Father Guido Sarducci.  You know Guido Sarducci?  He’s a character from the old Saturday Night Live show, the “special Vatican correspondent” on their fake news segment.  In 1975, Father Sarducci did a bit where he went looking for holy relics from the Last Supper for the Vatican’s collections, but all he could find ... was the check from the Last Brunch.

“Twelve-a bagels and-a lox, twelve-a cheese omelets, twelve-a coffees.

“One-a soft-boiled egg.  One tea.”

And on the back of the check, you could see where they had divided up the check equally.  “Very un-a fair to-a the guy who had-a the tea.  Gee.  I wunner who that was.”  Father Sarducci’s moral was, “When you’re in a group, always order the most expensive thing on-a the menu.”

But that did get me thinking, finally, about the Last Supper.  I figured if I could suspend my disbelief long enough to laugh at Guido Sarducci, I could certainly suspend it long enough to consider the question of “What if the Last Supper was real?”  I mean the whole package:  Jesus’s goodbye, Judas running out to betray him, the bread and wine, “Do this in memory of me” -- everything.  I did have to try HARD to suspend my disbelief.  Disbelief is one of my best things.  I was the kid that the nuns were always whacking with a ruler for asking things like, “Why does Jesus have blonde hair and blue eyes?”  Even at 8 years old, I knew that Jesus almost certainly did not have blonde hair and blue eyes.  It was just a short hop from that to challenging Jesus’ very existence.  Doubting Thomas, indeed.

So I went to the Bible.  I found that some version of the Last Supper appears in all four Gospels.  Somehow that made it easier for me to accept the idea that it all might have happened.  And I tried, very hard, to “what if?” myself into the shoes of the men at the Last Supper.  And in spite of myself, I found myself being very moved by their situation.  To have followed Jesus, this incredibly charismatic man, and to have seen the things he had done.  To have seen him heal lepers, restore sight to the blind, cast out demons, to have seen him RAISE THE DEAD.  All of these amazing, mind-boggling things.  All the while never wavering from giving his message.  And then they were told it was all going to end.  Told that they were going to be on their own.  Soon.  How would I have felt?  I can scarcely put it into words that make sense.  I promise I am not being frivolous here.  Trekkie comic book geek that I am, to me it would have felt like Batman telling ME to take over protecting Gotham City.  Or like Captain Kirk telling me to take over command of the Enterprise.  And me without any of their skills, or knowledge, or “wonderful toys.”  Without any powers, super, miraculous or otherwise.  I don’t believe I would handle it very well.  No wonder that these men went on to behave pretty badly themselves right afterwards.  They failed to stay awake and pray with Jesus, and either ran away, or pretended not to know him when he was arrested.  But ultimately -- they really got their act together!  Enough to go out into the world and continue giving their message of love, with just their faith in the message itself to sustain them.  If the story of the Last Supper and the New Testament IS true, even a little of it, I find myself with a new respect for those men.  I understand now, I think, why the early Christians (the “TRINitarians”, if you will) called that kind of faith “the Holy Spirit” and made it the third aspect of God.  Would I have been able to do what they did?  I’d like to hope so, but I honestly can’t say.

I CAN say that when human beings go ahead with what they believe, without powers or resources, fueled only by their belief itself, that, to me, is greatness.  The true greatness of the human spirit.  I don’t attribute this greatness to the Divine, because for me, there IS no “Divine” but the greatness is no less great because it is human.  It is no less spiritual, either.  This human greatness is why I am a humanist.  It’s why I go to church.

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