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 Messiah should 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. - Luke 24:13-35
I recognize a map of my own mind in Pieter Cornelisz van Rijck’s “Kitchen Scene with Supper at Emmaus” (1605). The busy foreground keeps the viewer engaged thoroughly. If the title hadn’t clued me to look for it, my usual exploitive heedlessness would have “kept my eyes from recognizing” the Emmaus event. Only by sitting with the scene, going slowly and carefully through and then beyond all the busyness, into the hidden corners, up the stairs, do I find Jesus breaking the bread just before his disappears. Studying the Rijck picture prepared me for the astonishment I felt when I discovered Velazquez’ “Kitchen Maid With Supper at Emmaus”. Soon after finding the Velazquez, I came upon Denise Levertov’s poem about the painting.
It seems to me the girl watches the event from a reflection in the jar. Even if this isn’t so, she clearly “knows” what is happening behind her. Furthermore, she is rendered more perfectly than the sketchy scene through the doorway or window. The theme of not recognizing and then recognizing Jesus in the post-resurrection stories prepare the soul to perceive the unitive life in unexpected, and sometimes hidden signs.
The Servant-Girl at Emmaus (A Painting by Velazquez)
She listens, listens, holding her breath. Surely that voice is his—the one who had looked at her, once, across the crowd, as no one ever had looked? Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his, taking the platter of bread from hers just now? Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face—?
The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy. The man whose body disappeared from its tomb. The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning, alive?
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table don’t recognize yet with whom they sit. But she in the kitchen, absently touching the wine jug she’s to take in, a young Black servant intently listening, swings round and sees the light around him and is sure.
Surely my heart was burning...
On Thursday evenings, in all the places I have lived and visited, after rough days, after pleasant days, during times of strife and upheaval, during times of plodding uninspiring work, in times of great pain and despair, in times of frantic child-raising and too-demanding parish work, in profound loneliness, and in times of calm happiness, I prayed the Collect for the Presence of Christ in the Episcopal tradition of daily prayer. I whisper the words of the friends on the road to Emmaus, inviting the Companion to stay with me, to enkindle my cold heart, to “awaken hope” in me. I ask for revelation of divine presence in the texts of beloved scripture and to disclose this same Presence in the breaking of bread in fellowship and in Eucharist.
Liturgical prayer shapes my soul. This particular prayer opens peripheral vision, a living into the Emmaus moments of life, when the divine presence is obscure but recognized in retrospect.
Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
I am so grateful for the years of liturgical prayer making a safe enclosure for the wild silence at the heart of my being, where I and Thou meet, often not quite in sync with one another except in my retrospective memory. Surely, my heart was burning...
"stay with us" The Road to Emmaus, Duccio, 1308-11
It is useless to ask why they did not recognize their companion on the road to Emmaus before that flash of insight at the breaking of the bread. Suddenly they recognize him and just as suddenly he is gone.
How often insight occurs indirectly, slipping in sideways from the unconscious, or, while your eyes, blurry in daydreaming, lose their focus. How often a problem solves itself in twilight sleep, in the shower or garden, while you’ve ceased to concentrate on the puzzle. Living in the post-rescurrection world means cultivating some kind of extra sense - and being open to surprise.
Through his character Screwtape, C.S. Lewis describes the joy of recognition (meditation one). John Wesley recounts the surprise of an Emmaus moment (meditation two). Beatrice Bruteau invites her readers to contemplate initiation into the mystery where “ he is himself the Way into which he leads us, as he is the Life into which we are led (meditation three). What is your Emmaus moment?
Meditation One (introit) so it was you all the time
The demon Screwtape explains to his nephew Wormwood what happens when the “patient” (the man entrusted to Wormwood to lure toward hell) dies and meets the angels.
He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how they would look, and even doubted their existence. But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realised what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not “Who are you?” but “So it was you all the time.” All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories. The dim consciousness of friends about him which had haunted his solitudes from infancy was now at last explained; that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered... He saw not only Them; he saw Him.
-C.S. Lewis 1898-1963 The Screwtape Letters
Meditation Two (insight) heart strangely warmed
John Wesley writes this journal entry during a time of defeat, depression, and despair.
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
-John Wesley 1703-1791 from The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738
Meditation Three (integration) told with closed lips Easter is about transformation. This transformation is symbolically, mythically, sacramentally, imaged as death/resurrection, in turn imaged as Baptism. We are trying to undergo the transformation by experiencing the sacramental power of these images. We are following Jesus as our archetype, as well as our teacher and our friend, the one who exemplifies the very transformation we are facing. He is also what is called in Greek the mystagogos, the mystagogue, the one who leads us into the mysteries, the one who initiates us into the secret, into that which is told with closed lips. And he is himself the Way into which he leads us, as he is the Life into which we are led. –Beatrice Bruteau, The Easter Mysteries
The Last Word
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,... Whose heart hath n'er within him burn'd As home his footsteps he hath turn'd, from wandering....(6.1)
-Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 Lay of the Last Minstrel
'Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who has not heard?' The Risen One wandered their road with them. Their beclouding had not cleared and did not lift even from His word. He simply came when asked at evening and broke bread there, a third, with them. And abruptly they were assured, beyond all that seeing had suffered joyful. They hurried to those who had not heard.