“And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight.” (Luke 24:31)
Baroque master, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s Supper At Emmaus, depicts when two bewildered disciples realize that their house guest is the risen Messiah. Jesus, incognito, reveals himself and, in a flash, vanishes from their sight. The masterpiece was painted in Rome during the Counter-Reformation in 1602, at a time when the Church vigorously perceived the need to proclaim its message through religious art. Supper at Emmaus is on display at the National Gallery in London.
The story in Luke’s Gospel begins with Cleopas’s journey to Emmaus, a disciple of Jesus and his companion – an unnamed disciple. Jesus is dead, and now his body is missing. Hopeless and confused, they head home. Jesus joins them on the road in disguise. He is youthful, beardless, and unrecognizable as described in Mark 16:12 that “he appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country.” The disciples begin a conversation with the stranger, not recognizing it is Jesus. Seeing their downcast faces, Jesus asks what has happened. After they explain to him all that took place, he begins teaching them all that the Scriptures affirm concerning Him, beginning with Moses up to the present day. He mesmerizes them, and their hearts begin to burn. They beckon him to come to their apartment for supper. Seated at the table with the disciples, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread. In an instant, the disciples recognize that this stranger is the resurrected Christ. In a fraction of a second, Jesus vanishes from their sight!
Imagine sitting at the table. That moment, frozen in time, is Caravaggio’s way of forcing the viewer to stop and consider this unimaginable miracle and to feel the shock and awe of the two disciples personally. The artist’s signature style of realism and intense chiaroscuro (light and shade) technique enhances each element in a consonant space. Caravaggio includes a still life display of fruit, bread, and other utensils with symbolic meaning.
Consider the bread and wine, symbolizing the Lord’s supper, the grapes representing wine and the apples – the Fall of Man. The pomegranates portray the Church, and if you look closely, you can see the shadow of the tail end of a fish underneath the fruit bowl, which could symbolize the Ichthys (Jesus fish). Included in the painting is the innkeeper, who listened in on the conversation. The table could be viewed as a sacred space, exemplifying the Gospel.
The most profound symbol is the fruit bowl on the edge of the table about to fall. The bowl is a picture of a dark world on edge, in moral decline. Nevertheless, here is another consideration: the objects on the table tell the Gospel story, and the men could not see it.
We can experience Christ’s transformative power through his Word, people, places, and things in a broken and confused world. Spiritual blindness prevents us from seeing it. These divine encounters quickly remind us of his undying love and sacrifice on the Cross. In an instant, our eyes are open, and we are filled with inexpressible joy.
“In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us,
in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”
Copyright 2020 William S. Barnett All rights reserved
Supper At Emmaus: Wikipedia