The Pilgrims at Emmaus - 1895
Lithograph by Maurice Denis (1870 – 1943)
In this lithograph Maurices Denis gave a contemporary twist to the subject of the Supper at Emmaus. We see Christ sitting at a table, blessing the bread. Facing him is the artist himself. He is the disciple who has just realised the identity of his extraordinary table companion. Denis’s wife Marthe is entering the room carrying a dish. A friend is carrying two small jugs containing water and wine. The print, issued after the original painting which is at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, sets the story of today’s Gospel reading in a contemporary setting. Note also the two candelabra on the table, with the flames being unified. The light of our candle is invited into Christ’s light and thus they shine brighter together.
The reading today is one that can truly help us with our prayer life. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were clearly discouraged, saddened and downcast. We can all find ourselves in that place from time to time… in the shadow of the cross. What Jesus does in our Gospel reading is simply to ask his unsuspecting disciples why they were feeling sad. He just invited them to share what was on their mind, to tell him what was in their hearts. That is exactly what Jesus asks us each time we come to him in prayer: to share what is in our hearts, the joys, the pains.
And once the disciples shared what was in their hearts, the Gospel reading tells us that then it was Jesus’ turn to speak. Again the same goes with us. Once we have shared what is on our mind, it is then time to listen to Our Lord. There comes a time in our prayer when, having opened our hearts to the Lord, we simply need to sit back and listen to his word to us.
Luke 24: 13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiahshould suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So, he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Only Luke records details of this talk of Jesus with these two on the road to Emmaus.
(1) It tells of two people who were walking towards the sunset. It has been suggested that that is the very reason why they did not recognize Jesus. Emmaus was west of Jerusalem. The sun was sinking, and the setting sun so dazzled them that they did not know their Lord. However, that may be, it is true that the Christian is someone who walks not towards the sunset but towards the sunrise. Long ago it was said to the children of Israel they journeyed in the wilderness towards the sunrising (Numbers 21:11) The Christian goes onwards, to a night that falls, but to a down which breaks – and that is what, in their sorrow and their disappointment, the two on the Emmaus road had nor realised.
(2) It tells us of the ability of Jesus to make sense of things. The whole situation seemed to have no explanation. To those followers of Jesus all their hopes and dreams were shattered. There is all the wistful, bewildered regret in the world in their sorrowing words. “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to rescue Israel.” They are the words of people whose hopes are dead and buried. Then Jesus came and talked with them, and the meaning of life became clear, and the darkness became light. It is only in Jesus that, even in the bewildering times, we learn what life means.
(3) It tells us of the courtesy of Jesus. He made as if he would have gone on. He would not force himself upon them; he awaited their invitation to come in. God gave us the greatest and the most perilous gift in the world, the gift of free will: we can use it to invite Christ to enter our lives or to allow him to pass on.
(4) It tells how he was known to them in the breaking of bread. This always sounds a little as if it meant the sacrament, but it does not. It was at an ordinary meal in an ordinary house, when an ordinary loaf was being divided, that Jesus was recognised. It has been beautifully suggested that perhaps these people had been present at the feeding of the 5,000, and, as he broke the bread in their cottage home, they recognised his hands again. It is not only at the communion table we can be with Christ, we can be with him at the dinner table too. He is not only the host in his Church: he is the guest in every home. The Christian lives always and everywhere in a Christ-filled world.
(5) It tells of two people who, when they received such great joy, hastened to share it. It was a seven-mile journey back to Jerusalem, but they could not keep the good news to themselves. The Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else.
(6) It tells how, when they reached Jerusalem, they found others who had already shared their experience. It is the glory of any Christian to live in a fellowship of people who have all had the same experience. It has been said that true friendship begins only when people share a common memory and can say to each other, “Do you remember?” Each of us is one of a great fellowship of people who share a common experience and a common memory of their Lord.
(7) It tells that Jesus appeared to Peter. That must remain one of the great untold stories of the world. But surely it is a lovely thing that Jesus should make one of his first appearances to the man who had denied him. It is the glory of Jeus that he can restore the penitent sinner’s self-respect.
This text suggests in several ways that it is not about what we know but who we know. It is about having an encounter, experiencing the light of Jesus’ truth and love shining on our past and our future, and then having the courage and the wherewithal to drop anything that is not that and go share what we know (not what someone else knows, just what we know) as witnesses to his abundant grace gushing up to eternal life in us.
Like these disciples, we sometimes feel lost and bewildered,
Longing for Your presence and guidance on our journey,
Open our eyes, Lord, to recognize You in our midst.
Fill us with a burning desire to know You more,
As we engage in this time of prayer and reflection,
May Your Word come alive in us, bringing transformation.
Empower us, O Lord, to share the Good News,
With hearts full of joy and faith, just like the disciples,
And may our lives be a testimony to Your redeeming love.
Like many of us today, the disciples on the road to Emmaus were at a loss and in despair over a world seemingly gone mad, seeing the foundational principles of the world around them being shaken and living in fear for their own lives. The horror and shock of the Crucifixion had overwhelmed all hope and threatened the teachings of love and compassion Jesus had sought to instil. Do the horrors of today’s world events overwhelm your sense of hope? Do the teachings of love and compassion seem pointless in the face of terrorist atrocities, global warming, racial hatred, refugee crises, and so many other evils?
Christ breaks bread with us today. Christ opens our hearts with his Word today in exactly the same way he did on that road to Emmaus 2,000 years ago. His teachings are the same: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Love your neighbour and pray for your enemies. Forgive all. Welcome the stranger. Care for the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Provide for the least among us.
The choice is ours. You can continue on your road to Emmaus and stay there. Continue to live in despair, confusion, instability, and fear. Continue to live in a world where evil has the last word and death is the end of life. Or hear the Word, hear the Voice, and be overwhelmed by Love. Go back to Jerusalem, back to your passion, back to healing, back to a life of hope, and back to a world where love has the last word and life never ends.