Living Last Supper returns for immersive understanding of an artistic masterpiece

Published 12:10 am Saturday, April 8, 2023

SALISBURY — Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been one of the most defining religious images for over 500 years. The painting shows Jesus with 12 of his disciples right after he declares that one of them will betray him.

But traveling to Italy to witness the work of art in person is often out of reach for many, so Christiana Lutheran Church members will help bring that same pathos to Rowan County.

On Thursday night, the church’s “The Living Last Supper” was performed for the first time since 2017. During the performance, 13 men took part and dressed as Jesus and his disciples to reenact the painting, with each person holding a pose just like the work of art. All of the disciples give a monologue about who they are and their feelings toward Jesus’ revelation, while Jesus himself stays silent. The church’s choir provides a haunting accompaniment throughout, further elevating the overall show.

“For those who are people of faith who have heard the story all their lives, it brings it to life in a fresh, impactful way. It challenges them as they are watching and listening to really feel like they are present in the upper room,” musical director Becky Morris said.

Morris is one of the only people still around who helped put on “The Living Last Supper” for the first time in 2008. Back then, it was “just a very crude stage and a table. It was pretty much thrown together at that point,” Morris said. “We did the best we could and it was so well received that the following year we did it again.”

In 2017, after the church did both “The Living Last Supper” and a similar program called “The Living Last Work,” they decided to do it every three years.

“It’s an immense undertaking” according to Morris. Due to COVID, they were unable to perform it in 2020.

“We wanted to wait until it felt right and that people have gotten over the fear of gathering,” Morris said.

“The Living Last Supper” has come a long way since 2008. All of the technical aspects that take place during pre-production make it look like it’s a Broadway play. Costumes were individually made with sound and lighting adding a true theatricality to the production.

Morris finds all of the performances especially moving because the men took the time to learn their parts from memory and tried their best to make the “The Living Last Supper” as unforgettable as possible.

“These are not actors. We’re a church out here in the country. This is a stretch for these men. I’m so proud of them,” Morris said.

Since there won’t be another “Living Last Supper” for three years, Morris believes this will be the last one with her as musical director. During the dress rehearsal on Monday night, she was very particular about making sure everything was immaculate, but once the performances begin, she knows everyone who is involved will have done their best and that’s all that matters.

“Honestly, many times I have felt overwhelmed by the responsibility, but I know God is going to see me through and if it’s not perfect it’s OK.”

Branson Pethel’s family has been going to Christiana Lutheran Church for generations. Pethel plays Philip, having done it in the past, and can’t get enough of it. He finds it spiritually fulfilling and thinks “The Living Last Supper” puts the work of art’s message on full display for the audience.

“These are very personal feelings these disciples had and I think when you look at it in terms of the four gospels, you’re not actually understanding that these are people and they’re languishing over the lost of their friend…Although we all know the story and we know who it is, it brings it to a personal level,” Pethel said.