I’m telling the story of Easter in four paintings of the Emmaus story. Our second and third paintings highlighted how Christ is known through his word and around the table. Our final paitning draws attention to a key implication of this: the call to mission.In 1601 Caravaggio, the Italian artist, also painted this scene. This portrayal of Christ is unusual in that Christ is beardless, perhaps representing the disciples’ failure to recognise him at first. The picture is bold and dramatic. The man on the left of the picture is in the act of pushing his chair away in astonishment.
But there’s also a sense in which he is pushing his chair out towards us. A tear in his sleeve draws our attention to this. It’s as if he is pushing his chair back to create space for us to move into the picture. Jesus’ arms are extended, notionally in blessing, but in fact inviting us forward. And the disciple on the right hand side has his arms fully extended in the most dramatic of postures. The lines of the painting all converge to beckon us into the picture. And as if that was not enough, a basket of fruit is teetering on the edge of the table, demanding that we leap into the picture to catch it. Caravaggio is trying to lure us into the scene as active participants. Christ’s outstretched arm is inviting each us to sit with him at the table.
The encounter with Christ is a call to action, to involvement, to participation. You can’t remain a passive observer. For these two disciples it means a radical change of plan. Look at verse 33: ‘They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.’ They literally retrace their steps by returning to the city.
Think how significant that is. They do what they had urged Christ not to do – they take to the road at night with all the dangers that involves. But more than that, that morning they were the ex-followers of an executed traitor, full of disappointment and fleeing arrest. In the evening they return to the city. They return to mission. It’s a mission with threat and danger attached. But they return because now everything has changed.