The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

When I passed the big dead raccoon late this morning, I noticed more flies emerging from and buzzing around its fur. I also caught for the first time the smell of its death. It's one that all mammals seem to share. And it's not death itself that hits and upsets the senses in your nose, but that of life consuming death. It is the smell of the last supper.

One of my favorite science writers is the biologist Nicholas P. Money. His book Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes has a passage that describes what happens when a big thing dies. The microbes in its guts no longer have anything to eat and so begin to eat what once supplied them food. These micro-organisms are not bad. It's just that they have an agreement with a living and eating animal, but none with a dead one. Their final supper bloats the animal and stinks the air around it.

Money writes:

I'm captivated by the revelation that my breakfast feeds the 100 trillion bacteria and archaea in my colon, and that they feed me with short-chain fatty acids… I'm thrilled by the fact that I am farmed by my microbes as much as I cultivate them, that bacteria modulate my physical and mental well-being, and that my microbes are programmed to eat me from the inside out as soon as my heart stops delivering oxygenated blood to my gut. My bacteria will die too, but only following a very fatty last supper.

So, the meaning of Christ's Last Supper, which is commemorated on certain Sundays by millions of Americans, is found not in heaven but in our guts. This eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood—this is exactly what happens to a corpse. The words “truly, truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you," came to my mind, and nose, when I passed the big dead raccoon on 32nd and South Alaska Street.