They recognised him in the breaking of the bread
On the dining room wall of my Father’s house hung a copy of the “Road to Emmaus” by Swiss artist, Robert Zund. Every time we sat down to eat it would hover above us. It is the painting of two people on the road – a winding path before them, the afternoon sun breaking through the trees to light it and the outline of a welcoming village in the distance ahead. The two travellers have their eyes fixed on neither the path ahead nor the village, but on the one in the midst of them (the middle of them) who is talking, teaching, explaining and pointing upwards. The painting picks up the narrative from Luke’s gospel where we are told that after his death by crucifixion two of Jesus followers had left Jerusalem and were on the road to Emmaus. Their hopes were dashed and they were also dumfounded by the rumours that had emerged that the crucified one was alive. Risen. The painting clearly shows the way that the central figure has captured the hearts and minds of the two travellers. They stand each side of him, looking intently at him, their bodies turned toward him while walking along. It is as if they are walking sidestep so as not to miss a word and to be sure that their story is heard as well and to see what light he can through on their experience, their story, their understanding. We don’t know from the picture but we do know from the text that the discussion culminated around a dinner table in Emmaus where the disciples begged the stranger to stay and eat with them. No doubt the conversation continued and Luke tells us that he broke bread with them and gave it to them to eat and it was then that they realised this was Jesus, alive and in their midst, but he had vanished from their sight. How strange. What a paradox. The moment they realised that he was alive and that he had made sense of their experience of loss and death, the moment that they felt the fullness of his presence, he vanished from their sight. And so Luke wants to tell us that we, too, can experience the fullness of the risen Lord, even though he is vanished from our sight. He continues to walk with us and enlighten us and inspire us and help to make sense of our lives. According to Luke this happened during a walk (a journey), a conversation and a meal.
My father died on Palm Sunday and the picture of the road to Emmaus has come down from the wall. My brothers and sisters and I have reflected on how many times we sat at that table under the road to Emmaus and there, at the dining room table we often worked out who we were, what we believed, what was important, where we were mistaken. Guided and challenged by our parents, often by our Dad, by each other and by the many friends and visitors who sat at our table. Our faith and our beliefs were shaped and nourished. And I do believe that the risen Christ was with us at that table.
Friends, during these corona virus pandemic days many of us are thrown back to walking, and to the family table. This is like an Emmaus time for us. We have more time at the table, more time to listen and learn and challenge and shape and deepen our understandings of what is important and what matters. And we can learn from each other, change our minds, reconsider our positions, and if we turn to the story of our faith, if we open the scriptures, too, during these days we may learn that we are not alone and we may see and hear more than meets the eye.
I am grateful to my parents for the shaping and fashioning and challenging that happened at the dining room table under the patronage of the Emmaus story. I pray that all of us now might find an Emmaus moment in these days when we can discover more about who we are in light of the God who offers us new life, new beginnings, resurrection in Christ Jesus – the one who travels with us.