Who Cooked the Last Supper?
Jesus had reserved the room (Luke 22:1-13), but the gospels don’t tell us who prepared the Passover meal for the disciples. It’s not as if they could text Grub Hub for delivery! There had to be a cook in the kitchen who would remain nameless, but without whom the Last Supper would not have happened (and Leonardo would not have created his most famous painting!)
Daisy Bonner would have been an equally nameless cook in the kitchen if she had not scribbled some graffiti on the kitchen wall of a little, white frame house in Warm Springs, Georgia. “The Little White House” was where Franklin Delano Roosevelt escaped the pressure of the Presidency. Daisy Bonner cooked his meals there for 20 years.
Daisy Bonner was preparing FDR’s favorite brunswick stew when a brain hemorrhage ended his life on April 12, 1945. It was his last supper. As the silent expression of her grief, she wrote on the wall:
“Daisy Bonner cook the 1st and the last one in this cottage for the President Roosevelt.”
The words remain there today as the mute witness to her love for and service to the President.
To most people, Daisy Bonner was like so many African-American women at the time, doing the mundane work of cooking and cleaning during the Jim Crow era. But when I read her words, I hear the voice of a woman who found her identity in doing seemingly small things in a significant way because of the one for whom she did them.
I wonder if the nameless cook in the kitchen of that upper room looked back on that Passover night the way Daisy Bonner looked back on the evening she prepared FDR’s last supper in Warm Springs.
From the Kitchen to the Court
Daisy Bonner died in 1958 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Warm Springs. She would have known all the oppression and fear of African-American life in “the lynching era” in America. I wish I could step back in time and tell her that there would be painful struggles along the way of the redemption of America’s “original sin” but that 77 years later Ketanji Brown Jackson would complete the journey from the President’s kitchen to the Supreme Court.
Stephanie Goggans, a 36-year old law student and an intern for an appellate judge in Ohio, said, “I’m crying happy tears because for the first time, I can look at the highest court in the country — a country I would give my life for — and see a face that looks like mine.” I’m grateful that my African-American granddaughter will be able to say the same thing.
I’d wish I could tell Daisy that her service to the President was one of those easily forgotten steps along the way; that perhaps her service in a little kitchen in Warm Springs made its own contribution to something larger than she could have imagined.
Come to the Table
We call it Maundy Thursday (from the Latin, mandantum) because it was the night Jesus gave his disciples “a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) He showed us what that kind of love looks like when he got up from the table , took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and knelt down to wash the disciples’ feet. (John 13:1-20) He took the role of the lowest servant in the house; the kind of servant whose name is easily forgotten and who hardly seems to leave a trace of their presence. When he said, “I have given you an example, that you should also do what I have done,” he was calling all of his disciples to follow him in a life of service that never calls attention to itself, but that meets the real, flesh and blood needs of others.
Like Daisy, those who gather around the table of our Lord tonight are called to serve others in seemingly mundane ways because we follow the One who came not to be served, but to serve. Those often nameless acts of service may have a larger impact than we can imagine in God’s work of redemption of the world in which we live.
That’s why the communion liturgy prays:
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory,
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Grace and peace,
(Adapted from Easter Earthquake: How Resurrection Shakes Our World, p. 101-102)