‘As often as you do this’

You have to count your blessings, even in this dreadful pandemic. One of the good things about the lockdown was that the Andy Warhol exhibition at Tate Modern was extended. So last week I managed to find an hour to get along there and enjoy this retrospective exhibition.

The Statue of Liberty

The thing about Warhol is that he understood the importance and the power of the icon. He always went to church. He had been brought up by his mother to practice his faith and that is what he did. So there was something deep inside him that knew that the way we engage with images in church is not superficial at all, they have a power which is beyond that of most pictures, a reality that lies behind them. So when you walk into the various rooms you are constantly being met with some iconic image. And my generation knows them all so well.

Marilyn Monroe, of course, was there; Campbell’s soup cans, Jackie Kennedy as she then was, Elivs, James Dean, Mao Tse Tung, the Brillo pad box, the Coca Cola bottle, Debbie Harry and more besides. But not just once, multiple times, repeated, repeated, the product of his ‘Factory’ way of working and the strange thing is that repetition does not diminish the power of the image, but reinforces it, magnifies it.

The final room has a single piece of work. One wall is filled with ‘Sixty Last Suppers’ which he painted in 1986, one of his last pieces of work. The room is dark and the picture is lit brilliantly. There are none of the gaudy colours of his other iconic depictions – this all black and white. Da Vinci’s iconic depiction of the Last Supper is repeated again, and again, and again, sixty times on a huge canvas.

Sixty Last Suppers

I found it very moving. It took me to what is essential about the Eucharist, about the Mass. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul in Chapter 11, sets before us this powerful truth

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11.26)

At all times and in all places, in every generation, day in, day out, bread and wine are taken and the Eucharist is celebrated. This constant repetition which Warhol’s painting reminds us of, diminishes none of its power, none of its grace, none of its life giving, hope filling, joy expressing power to change our lives. Sixty times is a lot in a room but it is as nothing in the story of how Christians have met the Lord and as Luke tells us was

‘made known to them in the breaking of the bread.’ (Luke 24.35)

Warhol reminds us of not just of the iconic power of the Mass but of the fact that in its very repetition the reality it embodies becomes yet more and more real in our lives.

Lord Jesus, give us each day our daily bread. Amen.

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