The Supper at Emmaus,
Drawing by Giovanni Antonio Guardi (1699-1760),
Drawn circa 1750,
Pen and brown ink and wash over black chalk
© Sotheby’s New York, From Taddeo to Tiepolo: The Dr. John O’Brien Collection of Old Master Drawings, 27 January 2021, lot 237, sold $69,000
They recognised him at the breaking of bread
Two of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.
Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’
Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.
When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’
They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
Reflection on the Old Master Drawing
Today’s drawing by Giovanni Antonio Guardi captures beautifully the mystical nature of the breaking of bread . Using brown ink, pen, pencil and watercolour, Guardi almost makes light flicker over the surface, giving the sheet of paper a luminous quality. This is a study for an altarpiece painting that Guardi was commissioned in Venice, where, in the mid 18th century, there was an insatiable demand for religious subject paintings. We see Jesus, surrounded by a burst of light, being recognised by the two disciples. As in our gospel reading today ‘their eyes were opened and they recognised him’.
On this Easter Wednesday we are told of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem. They walked away from the grief and disappointment that Jerusalem had brought to them. They were grief-stricken. The city had killed their friend, Jesus, and had killed their hopes with it. It is exactly in that moment of disappointment and disillusionment that Jesus walked with them. He journeyed with these two disciples to make them see that Jerusalem was not a place where only his crucifixion and death took place... but also where he rose from the dead.
In our own lives, we often want to walk away from places and situations that have brought us disappointment and hardship. We feel that we want to close such chapters in our lives. Fair enough. But are these places or situations of disappointment not exactly the very places where the seeds of hope and fresh life are found? Jesus journeys with us in our moments of difficulty… and makes us see that a past situation which we experience as negative may actually be the very seed of new life.
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