Spirit Quest


We desperately need an Emmaus moment
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

“Caravaggio,” - no, its not the name of a new model of Italian motor car that zooms along the winding roads in the hills of the Cote de Solei. Nor is it an intoxicating concoction to be savoured under an umbrella at a poolside bar (as in “just ask for a “vaggi on the rocks”). It's not piquant pasta, although my mouth is watering already.

No, Caravaggio was an Italian painter (1573–1610). One of his masterpieces, Supper At Emmaus, (1610, located at the National Gallery in London) depicts the famous biblical scene of Jesus breaking bread with two of his disciples at the small town of Emmaus near Jerusalem.

Jesus had joined the disciples on the road out of the city. The two were dejected. Their mentor and friend had been executed by the Romans in connivance with the Jewish establishment. Their future was uncertain to say the least. Gossip had it that some women friends had seen him alive, but that was just that, gossip or the wishful thinking of stressed minds. 

En route they were joined by another traveller with whom they discussed the goings-on of the last few days. Suspiciously, he seemed to know a lot about these events. When they reached Emmaus they prevailed upon their companion of the road to stay and share a frugal meal with them. It was this humble supper table that was the subject of Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio’s (1571-1610) masterpiece. 

The mysterious wayfarer breaks bread with them and as he invokes the familiar words of blessing their eyes are opened and they recognize him to be their Risen Lord. And then he disappeared. The disciples immediately changed their itinerary and headed back to Jerusalem and their friends. On the way they reflected on how their hearts had burned within them as he spoke.

“The Meal of Recognition” as it is often called, “is transparently the Church’s breaking of bread and wine, echoing the Last Supper.” writes Diarmaid MacCulloch in his 1000 page tome: Christianity: The First 3000 Years.He goes on to say that, “Emmaus was beyond time, but it was the natural setting for the disciples to meet the one who had eclipsed the suffering of the Maccabees in order to redeem the new Israel before the face of all people.”

The Maccabees were a Jewish rebel army who took control of Judea reasserting Jewish religion, expanding the boundaries of the Land of Israel and reducing the influence of Hellenism just before the beginning of the Common Era. In 4 BCE the Romans under orders from Emperor Varus burnt Emmaus to the ground. The Emmaus of Jesus’ time was but a little village and suffered from this tragic reputation.

On the first day of this week people, Christian or otherwise, celebrated Easter. It has become a popular rite of spring, at least in the northern hemisphere. It is a celebration of the awakening of nature after its winter dormancy, a time for bonnets, bunnies and elaborately coloured eggs. For the Christian, however, it recalls an unbelievable event. After his execution and burial, Jesus came to life, left the grave, spoke with his friends, walked through walls, ate grilled fish on the Galilean seashore. After final instruction to his friends he departed into the clouds.

This event, imaginary or otherwise, precipitated a worldwide movement that MacCullouch recounts in his book. The resurrection has had an undeniable affect on the last two millenniums of world history It unleashed a spirit that will continue into the cloudy millenniums to come. 

I believe that humanity in order to survive on this sorry planet is desperately in need of that spirit. The Church may disappear as is popularly predicted. The magnificent cathedrals in those countries that were once the bulwark of the faith are emptying, except for state extravaganzas such as a royal wedding. New mega churches present “religious entertainment” for the masses. Their message is more suds than soap and emulates the American way. They seem to glory in a bloody end of time, the Armageddon, from which the “born again” are raptured to the high bleachers of heaven from which they may enjoy the bloody spectacle. No more “goody goody Jesus” but a champion mixed-martial cage fighter without cage, whose accomplices take no prisoners alive. 

However, science and technology, wealth and democracy alone, cannot save the world. These are but means in search of ends. 

Caravaggio portrays recognition. Eyes are opened to a new reality of hope. There needs to be an awakening to what humanity was meant to be and do. 

The early Church became a community that shared their possessions. ”They had all things in common,” as the Book of Acts described the people of the Way, until the Church itself became rich and powerful and oppressive. But the Spirit of Love, in all its various manifestations, persisted and persists against all odds.

The future of humanity depends upon this recognition of a hope that transcends wealth and power. Is this Easter message too much of an “impossible dream” upon which to build our world, or at least a better Canada, eh?

We desperately need an Emmaus moment.   

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