Art: “Last Supper” from wall of Kremikovtsi Monastery, Bulgaria, 16th century AD, photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Written by Brian Johnson, Pastor of Haymarket Church

“I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
depiction of the last supper Art: “Last Supper” from wall of Kremikovtsi Monastery, Bulgaria, 16th century AD, photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons Available online at:
Art: “Last Supper” from wall of Kremikovtsi Monastery, Bulgaria, 16th century AD, photo by Edal Anton Lefterov, CC BY-SA 3.0

I am not particularly comfortable talking about visual art.

I don’t have anything against visual art – I like it as much as the next person.  But when I discovered that the theme for this year’s Lenten devotional was going to be reflections on Christian visual art, I felt a bit of a knot in my stomach.  “I can’t do that,” I thought to myself, “I don’t have anything useful to say about art.  I’ll just look like a fool.”

I was so uncomfortable with this idea that I ended up writing multiple entries (I know that sounds odd, but hear me out).  For the first entry I wrote (which we will share later on during Lent), I found a photo of a stage production of a well-known musical theater show and used that photo as an excuse to talk about the show’s music.  I didn’t really engage with the visual art at all.  Because, again, the thought of it overwhelmed me. But then (maybe because I’m an oldest child and find myself driven to succeed and prove my excellence in all things), I decided that I needed to try to engage with actual visual art.  And thus, here I am, writing a second entry (which you are reading first, because, I dunno, time is weird, I guess).  

Anyway, as I struggled with what to do, how to engage with this assignment, and how to deal with my feelings of discomfort with visual art, my thoughts kept returning to the Eucharist.  The Eucharist (Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper) is much more than visual art, but it is also definitely a visual representation of God’s story.  At the church where I’m the pastor (Haymarket Church), we celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday.  Sometimes, when someone new comes to Haymarket Church, they will ask why we celebrate communion so frequently.  There are lots of good answers to that question, but one of the ways I like to explain it is to say that when we celebrate Holy Communion, God’s story comes alive in a special way.  When we get to Holy Communion on Sunday, we’ve spent 45 minutes doing God’s story through words and prayer and music.  Then, when we celebrate communion, the story of God becomes something we can taste and see and touch and smell.  Jesus is present in the bread and the cup and he is present in and among us.  And, as we celebrate communion, the story that we read in the Bible comes alive all over again, in ways that we can’t fully understand.  The story is reenacted and continued in fresh and beautiful ways that go beyond our understanding.

Every Sunday I look at a loaf of bread and a cup of grape juice and expect something holy to happen.  I have an expectation – I believe – that God can use these physical things – things I can see – to change me at a spiritual level.  And, so, it seems reasonable to believe – to expect – that engaging deeply and prayerfully with visual art might also have the power to change me.  The thing about being a Christian is that we believe that the God of the universe has become flesh.  The God who is, by nature, immaterial and unknowable, has chosen to make God’s self known to us – and has done that precisely by entering into this physical world.  In Jesus Christ, the invisible God became visible.  Jesus Christ is the icon – the image – who shows us who God is, the One at whom we look in order to catch a glimpse of the heart of God the Father.

And, so, if you’re someone who struggles with visual art – if you’re a little overwhelmed or disoriented by this devotional theme – you’re not alone.  I’m right there with you.  And, also, I’ll tell you what has me convinced that visual art matters: the bread and the cup, which point me to the body and blood of Christ, the One who became flesh in order to help us see who God is.  And, because God has done that, we can trust that God can also use images like the ones contained in this devotional to transform us and lead us into deeper faith. 

Find previous “Picturing God” entries here:

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