‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.’
It always seemed a pity that today’s Gospel reading is left until two weeks after Easter for there is a wonderful humanity in Saint Luke’s story of the evening of that first Easter Day. It is a story that always seemed much more readily accessible to sceptical people than did the stories from Easter morning.
The despondent disciples who are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus are joined by a stranger who walks with them and discusses all that has taken place. The stranger rebukes them for their failure to understand why things have happened the way they have. Reaching Emmaus, the disciples wish to show hospitality to the companion who has done so much to encourage them and they invite him to stay. It is only when they sit down to eat and the stranger takes the bread and breaks it that they recognize that it is Jesus who has journeyed with them that evening.
If you search the Internet, you will find a picture of the supper at Emmaus painted by the Seventeenth Century Spanish artist Diego Velaquez. It is a picture that makes you think about the down to Earth quality of the story told us by Saint Luke.
If you continue your Internet search, you will become aware that there are two versions of the painting. One version hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. It is a picture of a maid working in a kitchen, for obvious reasons, it is bears the title Kitchen Scene.
However, the Dublin version of the painting is called Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus.
The painting was identical to the Kitchen Scene in Chicago and it had been thought by some experts that the painting in Dublin was a copy of the canvas in Chicago, but in 1933 it was cleaned. The cleaning of the painting revealed a detail in the top left-hand corner of the canvas, the detail was a picture of Jesus sharing supper with his disciples.
If you compared these two paintings, Kitchen Scene in Chicago and Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus in Dublin, it might perhaps point to two conclusions that could be drawn from the words of Saint Luke Chapter 24.,
A first conclusion might be that the presence of Jesus is not obvious.
The disciples failed to recognize him, even though he had perhaps spent two hours or more with them walking those seven miles to Emmaus.
In the painting, the presence of Jesus was not obvious for centuries, it was revealed through the restoration work.
In Christian life, the presence of Jesus may demand an active searching, it may demand careful discernment. How often have Christians missed the presence of Jesus because they have failed to look for that presence? How often has it been the case that it has only been afterwards that they have realized the divine presence has been with them and they have not recognized it?
A second conclusion is that the listener must now take the initiative.
The disciples realize that Jesus has been present with them and, although night has fallen, they immediately return to Jerusalem to share the good news they have received.
In the painting, it is the kitchen maid who is in the foreground, the focus in the picture is upon her attentiveness to the words that she hears. How will she respond to the conversation of those sitting in the house?
Like the maid listening to Jesus, Christians who now hear story of the risen Lord are now in the foreground of the picture. How well do you listen to what is being said? What will you do with the news that you have received?