The Supper at Emmaus, a painting by Caravaggio, 1601. Notice the moment of recognition. The surprise and amazement in those gathered around the Christ. There is a wonderful sense of drama. The hand of the disciple reaching out of the painting to us and the bowl of fruit over the edge of the table.
Two of them were going to a village called Emmaus. Jesus himself came and walked along with them. (St Luke 24:13-35)
One of the stories of the Resurrection is the appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Two of his disciples, walking away from Jerusalem and as they go they talk about is what happened there. Remember the prophet Jesus had been crucified by the Romans. They are of course confused and wonder what all these events meant. What should they draw from it? As they walk, Jesus comes up beside them and as a stranger on the road walks with them. He questions them about the event. They are amazed that he was totally unaware of what had happened. But the stranger is so interesting that beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. They are so impressed with this stranger, that they invite him to stay the evening.
Then we are told that at supper he took bread and gave thanks and broke the bread and gave it to them. And in that moment the Scripture says their eyes were opened and they recognised him.
They say, Were not our hearts burning within us when he talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
This story of the road to Emmaus is reminding us that in all our journeys there is a third presence. There is one who journeys with us, engages us and explains the past to us so that we begin to see the hand of God in our lives.
Caravaggio did a second painting of the Emmaus Supper a few years later (16060. There is even a deeper sense of intimacy now, and the scene is far less dramatic. Just a quiet presence and recognition.
When I was young, sometimes on a Sunday evening, sometimes after church, my friends and I, there were 11 guys, used to walk up to Devil Peak, the mountain above our suburb. And in a place called the Valley which had those overhanging milkwood trees we’d make a fire and sit around and chat. Around that fire we used to dream about our futures, what we were going to become. It was I suppose our dream-time. Well we all got a little bit older, went on our individual journeys and mostly lost touch with each other. Though I still have at least one friend who journeyed all the way with me.
One of my friends was a talented singer, who went on to become quite a well-known singer in the Africans community. Two of us became Anglican priests. One of my friends went to Australia and flew aeroplanes, another friend became an Educationist in the UK and also in South Africa. And another friend went to Canada where he played a role as a Commissioner amongst the indigenous people of Canada, breaking down the barriers between peoples of different races. We were really an ordinary a group of people, with dreams.
I’m sure as they and I look back on our lives we are really amazed at the extraordinary events that took us to different countries and into the company of total strangers. Amazed to how one was able to find lovely people who welcomed us and our families.
Think for a moment of significant moments in your life, when someone nudged you in a direction to go. There must be many people.
The story of Emmaus reminds me that in all our journeys there is a third presence. There seems to be the guide, the helper, the comforter – Christians speak of the Holy Spirit. The one who gives meaning to our past experiences and helps us to find the way forward.
But who is this third presence, say in your situation. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says this in one of his poems:
for Christ plays in 10,000 places,
lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces
So it is the people that speak wisdom to us, like members of family, older friends, teachers, coaches, councillors and mentors. Those who help to explain the past and what we are going through.
So in every good relationship, that is friendship, there is a third presence. There is the soul that you share together, that wants your nurturing and your love.
So today as we begin to go on our journeys once again with our old friends and new friends, perhaps it’s time to give thanks for the one who journeys beside us.
Who explains the past to us.
Who opens the future to us and invites us to move forward with confidence and trust.
And may we find places where our hearts burn within us as he talks with us on the road and opens the Scriptures to us?
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