Reversing the Last Supper

The Last Supper

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by Susan McCaslin

I have in my head an image of people gathered around a table to dine and converse about the state of the world. Plato’s Symposium (or The Banquet), is a classical Greek dialogue depicting philosophers gathered to discuss the nature of love. The big paradigm in the west for a small group of idealists joined around a table is The Last Supper.

But wait. The subtext of that sacramental meal is sombre; a brooding darkness hovers. We all know the Romans are lurking just down the street to arrest the beloved leader of this grassroots group; the flock will be scattered, the leader tortured and crucified. Betrayal is being consumed along with the wine and matza, so who can be convivial knowing the end of the story?

This paradigm of the sombre Last Meal hangs over us today as the archetype of the apparent failure of activism, the apparent destruction of Jesus’ (and other spiritual leaders’) dream of a kingdom of justice and peace. Today we wouldn’t call his vision “a kingdom,” but perhaps a new order, a compassionate and just society.

Yet in the Christian mythos there is a more joyful subtext: Easter, the resurrection. In one sense, the symbol of Jesus leaping from the tomb, as in William Blake’s powerful painting Glad Day, was the early Christian movement’s re-visioning of history. For the first Christian communities, the resurrection symbolized the birth of a new movement. It is also an image providing hope that nothing can suppress the emergence of the Christ-consciousness (now to be interpreted more universally) in the world.

However, as Leonard Cohen sings, “the Christ has not yet risen from the chambers of the heart.” So this human potentiality has not been realized at the collective level. Yet it is true that the Christ arises and is arising in individuals, in the mystics, in the saints, in small sub-streams and movements of social justice. The risen Christ has been present even in the history of institutional Christianity through its mystics and reformers, but more often, betrayed again and again by corrupt institutions.

After all, it has been 2000 years since Jesus offered his vision of the kingdom and we don’t have anything like Jesus’ dream (the kingdom of heaven on earth) to show for it. In fact, the world looks a lot more like an apocalyptic nightmare on a global scale than the peaceable kingdom.

Some think Jesus was speaking primarily of a kingdom within, or a future state in the life beyond death, but my hunch is that he was onto both, as he believed the seed of the kingdom in each heart could bloom into social transformation. I see him as a contemplative who was also a reformer, an activist. These two aspects of Jesus’ desire are tightly interwoven in the gospels and can’t be separated.

So where are we now? The kingdom has not only not come, but the human world and the natural one (primarily because of our species’ impact) is being despoiled by our collective greed harnessed to a military industrial complex that acts on its demand for immediate gratification. More money, more oil, more development. This is truly a global crisis and we are seated individually and collectively at what seems the Last Supper. And as we know, much of the world isn’t feasting, but facing starvation, the impacts of war and social turmoil.

If we look at Jesus’ second coming spiritually, symbolically, it represents the coming of the peaceful, committed activist to save the world. We can’t wait for Jesus to descend from the sky after 2000 years to do it for us. It’s about our empowerment, individually and collectively, to turn things around for the planet.

We have to be the “Second Coming.” We have to make it happen by listening, being receptive, stepping out and acting.

Whether or not it’s too late we can’t say, but we can know that we have to try. Giving up hope and letting our machinery crucify the earth that sustains us is not an option.

So I have a proposal. This time around, let’s not look at our time together as another “last supper” but the first of many ongoing smaller meals.

It’s interesting that important conversations and planning sessions often take place over food, the act of eating. Dining together ties us to the earth and to our common humanity. Sharing food is homely and sacred at once, no matter what tradition we are from. Consider Hanukkah, Holy Communion, Mass, the Japanese tea ceremony, the Hindu sharing of food. Only this time, we’re wise to those who want to silence our leaders, crush out hopes, scatter us.

Jesus’ big dream now needs to become our universal, collective dream, transcending religious ideologies and doctrine. Jesus isn’t the only one who has dreamed it, but Martin Luther King, Gandhi etc. It’s a universal archetype of restoration and celebration.

Right now dystopias are very popular. Big novels and blockbuster films tend to focus on the collapse of the world. I love dystopian literature, but the tradition of utopian literature is silent and thought to be naive. Where are our current Plato’s, Dante’s, Thomas More’s, William Morris’s?

This time I dream we can rewrite the mythos of the past and begin to re-vision and enact the utopian dreams at which people tend to scoff. It’s easy to poke holes in utopian thinking, but as science has demonstrated, vital new inventions are often first imagined and then later come into existence. As Ezra Pound noted, “The poets [or any big dreamers] are ‘the antenna of the race.’”

Utopia literally means “no where,” or “not a place in time and space,” but within the heart, as it has hasn’t existed except in small pockets on this planet by nature-honouring cultures. Our utopian dreams begin within in the heart, but they don’t end there.

My dream is that we can make them manifest first in our lives, in small groups, in the public sphere, until they become a peaceful forcefield capable of transforming empires from within.

Susan McCaslin is a Canadian poet and Faculty Emeritus of Douglas College in Westminster, BC where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years.  She is the author of ten volumes of poetry, including her most recent, Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011).  The latter was a finalist in 2012 for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award) and the first-place winner of the Alberta Book Publishing Award (Robert Kroetsch Poetry Book Award). Susan has recently published a volume of essays, Arousing the Spirit: Provocative Writings (Wood Lake Books, 2011). She has edited two anthologies and is on the editorial board of Event: the Douglas College Review.  She lives in Fort Langley, BC with her husband and an active Australian shepherd.

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Categories: Bible, Christian Life, Evolutionary Christianity, Featured, Prayer, Religion, Susan McCaslin


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2 Comments on “Reversing the Last Supper”

  1. Antoinette Voûte Roeder, M.Mus., poet, spiritual director
    March 18, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    Susan McCaslin is Ezra Pound’s poet with antennae par excellence. She is able to bring scholarship, spirituality, and her concern for our earth together in such a way that we actually feel hope in the face of so much darkness.

  2. March 18, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    One definition of a poet is someone who’s completely at ease with metaphor. Susan is a poet. What she does with the metaphor of “The Last Supper” is dazzling and profound. Would that all the e-mail addresses in the world – including Putin’s and Obama’s – received the good news of her and the gospel’s message.

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