The Last Supper

The Last Supper
(by Rainer Maria Rilke)

They are assembled, astonished and disturbed
round him, who like a sage resolved his fate,
and now leaves those to whom he most belonged,
leaving and passing by them like a stranger.
The loneliness of old comes over him
which helped mature him for his deepest acts;
now will he once again walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him still will flee before his sight.

To this he has summoned them,
and (like a shot that scatters birds from trees)
their hands draw back from reaching for the loaves
upon his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, frightened, round the supper table
searching for an escape. But he is present
everywhere like an all-pervading twilight-hour.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the night he was betrayed,
he took bread and gave you thanks and praise.
He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you.

When supper was ended, he took the cup.
Again he gave you thanks and praise,
gave the cup to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood,
the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.
It will be shed for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven.
Do this in memory of me.



3 thoughts on “The Last Supper

  1. Rilke captures the alpha and omega of the pathos of humanity that, even at what might yet be the zenith of its magnificence, now instead in great bafflement will soon limp, fall, shudder, and in hiding become one with the dust from which it was made. Except for one who shall remain throughout, and except for one who will go farthest away, all remain near in the only way they can, at a distance in this moment of honesty, incapable of not asking the saddest question ever asked aloud: Is it I, Lord? The Master doesn’t say it in words, but we some of us might hear it this way, “Of course it is you, but I love you anyway, and I give myself to you now, in the first of the covenant tonight, and tomorrow fully in Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, until the end of the age.”

    Rilke manages to put us at this holy Scene, a moment whose happiness, under Heaven, was recorded only in Christ’s and Mary’s heart(s).

    Rilke manages to put us at our loved ones’ deathbeds as we so broken have no choice but to let them go, in utterly blind hope.

    Rilke manages to touch with a Wounded hand those who’ve outlived everything but their bodies, for whom a kind word alone is now mother and father, food and light.

    Rilke manages to redeem someone’s Holy Thursday 2009 by making her bawl her eyes out in the alpha and omega of her own sorrowing/thankful humanity. Can anyone truly reject what we are so unworthy of, but so Welcomed to–so Brought into? True Food, True Drink, His flesh and blood for the life of the world; spiritually, He makes us bone of His bone.

    Rilke manages to make me want to kiss your feet, too, girl for giving textual womb to his holy thought-child– delivering unto us more abundant life indeed. I might never have seen this musing, or that graphic, otherwise. Thank you so much.

  2. Cathy, thank you. I wish the same to you and your family – a peaceful and beautiful Easter season.

    Carol, I was struck very much by your seeing “the alpha and omega of the pathos of humanity” in Rilke’s poem, and I see the alpha and omega surrounding the question you say is “the saddest question ever asked aloud: Is it I, Lord?” It made me think of 1Samuel Ch. 3, where Samuel runs several times in to see Eli because he thinks he is calling him. We often sing “Is it I, Lord” when that passage of scripture is read at Mass. In our humanity, we have the alpha and omega of this question, don’t we – Is it I, Lord? filled with wonder and hope that the good Lord is indeed calling us to serve him, with perhaps only a fine line between that and the Is it I, Lord? who may/do betray You. Thanks for so many fine insights here.

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