A Cup of Agony

Cup of Agony by Emil Nolde 1909

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Cup of Agony

We have here an unusual modern painting of the Last Supper that focuses on the faces of those at the event. Central in the picture is Jesus. He clasps with both hands the chalice of wine he is about to offer his disciples. It is the Last Supper but also the First Holy Communion.

The Lord's face is one of agony. His eyes are closed and his face is a sickly yellow and green. He is surrounded by his disciples and yet very alone. He will drink the cup of death alone tonight for all will flee in fear. His lips part as if speaking the blessing over the wine that will become his blood poured out for all men.

To the Lord this is a holy moment and yet as you look around at the surrounding faces you don't find many entering in and sharing this moment with him. The first disciple in the lower left corner is focused on his friends on the right side of the picture. The next three faces are sober and trying to see to the other side of the picture. The disciple immediately to the left of Jesus is presumably John. This young man truly loved Jesus and is the only one in the picture that has his eyes focused on the chalice the Lord is holding. He is intently listening and watching. However, you have the feeling of a curious youth more than a sympathetic and understanding disciple.

The face to the right of the Lord is sober and staring off to the distance. The next face is sinister with pencil eyebrows and a mustache. He looks agitated as he looks out of the picture. Is this Judas?

The next face is smiling, almost laughing. He does not understand the cup of agony at all. The final three people are just there -- looking and watchful. The faces of these men may be reflective of attitudes today when we speak of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.

Some of us are intently interested, watchful and asking, "Why is this event so important?" "How will it impact my life?"  But others will go on with their lives knowing the event occurred but seeing no relevance for them. Still others will laugh. Another will dismiss it  and feel uncomfortable with the whole nasty business.

The cup of agony that Jesus would experience could only be experienced by him. But the disciples could have strengthened him for the trial by their empathy, prayers and attentiveness.

The cup of agony has now been drunk by Jesus. The suffering is over. He now sits at the right hand of His Father. But still today we can share in his joy by loving Jesus for all he has done, appreciating his sacrifice and being grateful that it was for us.

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