Hey, here’s an idea! At your next congregation-council meeting, why not suggest commissioning a painting for your Altar, depicting your Pastor, your Mayor, some popular public figures, and the church council, all at the Last Supper with Jesus – and paint a nearby armed-forces base in the background. Of course, the whole congregation would support your idea because of the way it helps worshipers understand the theology of the Reformation.
What would a painting like that suggest about the impact of the Reformation and the associated theology? Well, after your suggestion at the Council meeting, with the unexpected free time you might find on your hands, you could come to Wittenberg and have a look at a painting like this and find out. It’s behind the altar at St. Mary’s Church where Luther preached more than 1,000 sermons. It might suggest that the redeeming work of God in Christ was not just something for and about the people who lived in the first century, nor even only for the elite, but for and about the very people living in your town and sitting in the pews at your church building.
Today, giving it just a quick glance, we might think of the Cranach Altarpiece, “Oh yeah, there are some people from long ago, sharing a meal with Jesus, like they did, and there is some old stuff in the background. Lovely painting, Ol’ Cranach.” But imagine for a minute how the people of Cranach’s day saw that painting behind their sacred Altar. It would have seemed like the most stunning piece of modern art to them – jarring, perhaps, like it would to us to see the Last Supper depicted behind our altar featuring people in skinny jeans, yoga pants, business suits and flip flops sitting around with Jesus. The people of St. Mary’s, in the Sixteenth Century, could see themselvesin that picture. And that was the point. It’s easy for us to miss it, since we don’t dress like that anymore. But have a closer look. And look up in the top right corner – that’s the Wartburg, not Jerusalem. It’s another reminder to the people that God is among them, and what better place for that piece of news than at the altar? Right in the midst of it -- Electors, Emperors, armies, and offices – whatever it all means, and perhaps with different meanings to different people in the congregation, one thing remains: God comes to them in bread and wine, broken and shed, body and blood.
Now, of course, you notice that cup. That will have to be the subject of another entry here. As will the Reformation theology in the painting below the Last Supper. Have a look. If you’ve been with us in Wittenberg you know that Cranach liked to paint people from the side. But that’s Luther in the pulpit and he’s pointing to Jesus. Feel free to skip your next class on homiletics, and just visit Wittenberg; have a look at the Altarpiece and consider what Luther might say about writing a sermon.