April 26, 2020 – Third Sunday of April
Shared by Rev. Deacon Jose Lemuel Nadorra, CSsR
Click here for the readings (http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042620.cfm)
One of the great Italian painters of the Baroque period is Michaelangelo Mirisi Caravaggio. He is one of the masters of realism and foreshortening technique, and the painting style called chiaroscuro, that uses the contrast of light and darkness to create and bring out the emotion and drama of the whole painting. What you see here is one of his famous painting, Supper at Emmaus. This is the second version of the same theme that Caravaggio painted about the Emmaus story.
Most paintings of the Emmaus story, which we heard in the gospel of Luke today, portray Jesus and the two disciples in deep conversation while walking together on a road in a beautiful scenery. But Caravaggio’s take on the Emmaus story focused on the crucial moment of the story. It focused on the very moment when Jesus broke the bread and the eyes of the two disciples were opened in amazed recognition that it is the Lord. Notice the contrast of expressions on the faces of the figures in the composition. The innkeeper and the servant at the back look confused and are oblivious of what is happening, while the two disciples on the foreground were shocked in utter recognition of the Lord’s presence. Caravaggio somehow froze that split-second moment just before Jesus vanished from their sight. Yet the center of interest of the painting is the hand of Jesus and the broken bread. What Caravaggio was trying to tell us was that it was the very act of the breaking of the bread that allowed the disciples to recognize the risen Jesus. Jesus, the bread of life, broken and shared for humanity’s redemption.
The Emmaus story we have heard in the gospel today is one of the apparition stories of Jesus, eyewitness accounts of the disciples, aside from the empty tomb, that cemented the faith of early Christians that indeed Jesus is risen and alive. We are told that these two disciples of Jesus were on the road going to the village of Emmaus, walking away from Jerusalem. They were sad, grief-stricken, and frustrated, of the events that transpired a few days ago in Jerusalem. Jesus, their hoped-for Messiah, was crucified and now dead.
Then, this “stranger” suddenly appears and joins them in their walk. They did not recognize that it was Jesus perhaps because, like Mary Magdalene, sadness and grief blinded them. Yet Jesus walked along with them, and engaged them in deep conversation about the Messiah in the Scriptures. Out of hospitality, they asked the “stranger” to join and stay with them for it was almost night time. And it was while he was at table with them, that the very act of Jesus in taking, blessing, and breaking the bread, that they recognized Him. It was the risen Lord! And then he vanished from their sight.
Brothers and sisters, the Emmaus story reminds us that in our life journey, in whatever circumstance we are in, Jesus walks along with us. In this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite our sadness, fears, frustrations and anxieties, that may blind and numb us, Jesus is there journeying with us. He meets and encounters us where we are. And like the two disciples who acted with hospitality in inviting Jesus with them, despite them not recognizing him, we, too are called to be hospitable to His presence, to invite Him to walk along with us, even though at times we may not recognize Him at the moment.
When the two disciples finally recognized the presence of Jesus through the breaking of the bread, and despite him vanishing from their sight, this brought them such great joy and remembered how their hearts burned when Jesus walked along with them. They left with such haste and returned to Jerusalem to announce that yes, Jesus is risen! It is also the same invitation to all of us my brothers and sisters. That as we celebrate this and every Eucharist, as we witness the taking, blessing, and breaking of the bread, we may also recognize with such great joy the presence of the risen Lord in our lives. Through this act, may our hearts also burn as we remember and look back at the many blessings, moments of grace, glimpses of God’s loving and mysterious presence in our life journey. Yes, all along he was there, walking with us. Encountering us. Journeying with us. But wait, there’s more!
The Emmaus story also invites us not only to look and recognize Jesus at the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist, but more so to look and recognize him at the many “breakings of the bread” that is happening all around us. Especially at this moment of the COVID pandemic, we see the examples of our front-liners who are risking their lives in order to help stem the spread of this virus. Or the many acts of generosity of people, individuals, local and church groups, who reached out to people in need despite the lockdown and community quarantine, etc. etc. Acts of generosity. Acts of love. Acts that bring hope. Yes, despite Jesus’ physical absence, the very act itself makes Him present. The act of the breaking of the bread in the Emmaus story strengthened the faith and brought hope to the two disciples. We are likewise invited to find strength and hope, as we recognize Jesus in the many “breakings of the bread” happening around us.
It is good to note that archaeologists and Biblical scholars would attest that the location of the village of Emmaus is still disputed and unknown, this somehow tells us, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had said, that the Emmaus story is also our Emmaus story.
Caravaggio’s genius in foreshortening technique found in his paintings, creates an illusion that parts of the figures are coming out of the canvas. This allows and invites the viewer to become part of the whole drama of the painting. As we become part of it, we are also invited to look at our own Emmaus stories. To look back at how Jesus journeyed with us, guided us, and manifested His presence in various and different ways in our lives.
Like the two disciples who, at the beginning journeyed blinded by grief and fear, went back and announced with great joy their encounter with the risen Lord. We, too are asked to allow the risen Lord to encounter us, in the breaking or the breakings of the bread happening around us, we will become like Peter in our first reading, who boldly proclaimed the Good News of Jesus.
In Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus painting, we see that subtle light coming in bringing light to the figure of Jesus and the broken bread. It symbolizes the new light, that transforming light, brought by Jesus upon His disciples. Jesus, the risen Lord, is the light of hope. As our psalms today exhorts, “Keep me safe O God, you are my hope!” And so are we, if we are truly believers of the risen Christ, must also bring the light of hope to others through our actions and deeds. Indeed, it is through our actions that the risen Christ is made present.
And so I leave you my brothers and sisters with this parting question for all of us to reflect upon: In what ways are we encountering Christ today? As Christians, is the risen Christ made present in our actions and deeds especially in these trying times?
May Jesus, the Risen Lord, bless us all. Alleluia!