When I was a Christian this used to be my favourite spiritual day of the Easter Festival. Jesus celebrating Passover with his disciples, the washing of the feet and the New Commandment: “that you love one another”. In London in the Catholic tradition it was one of the rare times one could receive the wine from the cup as well as the bread. I still think the reading from the liturgy, Exodus Chap 12, is one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible: marking the houses with blood so the angel of death would passover them. The biblical account of “the Last Supper” however, does bring into question whether it was a Passover meal at all. If the Last Supper took place on the first day of Passover, or after sunset on the evening preceding it, as was Jewish tradition, then the next day would have been one of the holiest days in the Jewish year and a meeting of the High Priests to condemn Jesus and the following execution would have been unthinkable. The biblical account has the Jewish authorities ask for the removal of the bodies from the crosses before sunset because the next day is the festival, which further confuses the issue. It is assumed that the next day refered to here is the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday, and so the tradition that the crucifixion was on Friday. But surely the festival referred to is Passover. Some therefore conclude Jesus was crucified on Thursday in which case the last supper was simply that, a last meal, being a day too early for Passover. You may also want to question why none of the women were present at a Passover meal! An answer might be that it was simply a final meeting of the male disciples to receive some final instructions and Jesus imagined that he would be able to have the Passover with his entire family (yes he must have had brothers and sisters) on the following day but his capture and death prevented it. Is this all a trivial confusion over timing and days of the week or does it raise questions about the origin and significance of the “Eucharistic” meal?
All of this leads me to believe that the accounts we have are retrospective attempts to build a cult of belief and as such create history in the imaginative projection of the writers themselves influenced as they were by the great flux of change taking place in their world. I believe all our stories do this to some extent, our stories and our literature. Stories in this sense confine us to a cultural or even a family construct that is both controlling and inhibiting. Think carefully about the stories passed on in your family that influence attitudes and future events.
This brings me back to Electra and Hamlet, see my previous blog on this topic. Both are victims to a family story of events and to the larger cultural tradition going way back that legitimizes revenge. Electra lives the story out whereas the renaissance hero that is Hamlet tries desperately to escape the controlling aspects of the “story” itself. In retrospect he is only partly successful but begins a rebellious trend. A trend we all must try to follow. The “lovely and dramatic” stories told by storytellers ( e.g. Martin Shaw 2011, Exodus, My Grandmother) all need a critique in this respect. They can be oppressive and conformist: the defining quality of stories is they are all made up. Scripture is no exception.
Shaw, Martin: “A Branch from the Lightening Tree”, White Cloud Press, 2011