Sunday, April 23, 2017

Luke 24.13-35: When the Pilgrimage Seems to Have Been a Bust

The gospel reading for Easter 3A (Luke 24:13-35) is another in the well-known post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Here, he appears to two disciples who are walking to Emmaus after the events of Jesus' crucifixion. The excitement was over. Jesus was dead. Might as well go home.

Little did they know.

Caravaggio painted several versions of the supper at Emmaus. This version is from 1601. A younger-than-usual-looking Jesus (note the lack of beard) sits at table with two men while a third appears to be serving. The food on the table comprises a delicious repast for the diners and a beautiful still life for the painter: roasted chicken (feet still attached), bread, fruits.

Jesus gestures with his right hand, and one of the travelers starts to push himself out of his chair while the other gestures with both arms outstretched. It isn't clear exactly what moment this is. There is bread in front of each person at the table, so perhaps Jesus has already broken bread and the two have recognized him. The story is familiar. Jesus will soon disappear, and the two travelers will hurry back to Jerusalem to tell their story. Imagine the wonder of it - if you were the one to see Jesus after everyone thought he was dead.

One of the interesting details that the artist has included is the scallop shell pinned to the outer garment of the traveler on the right. The scallop shell might not have been known in Jesus' day, but for those in Caravaggio's time - and for Christians in preceding centuries - the shell was a specific symbol. A person wearing a scallop shell pinned to his garment was known to be a pilgrim. Most often the shell-wearing traveler was on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The scallop shell, a symbol of the disciple James, was worn on the way to Santiago, to the Cathedral of St. James, where the apostle's remains are supposedly buried.

Medieval pilgrims wearing the scallop shell were entitled to food and lodging. The shell was a handy size for use as a drinking cup or as a bowl for eating. The presence of the shell on this traveler marks him as a pilgrim, a traveler on a religious journey. The only journey he had been on was to Jerusalem to see the one they had thought would redeem Israel: Jesus.

But that had ended badly. Apparently Jesus was not the one to redeem them. And though there were reports that his tomb was empty, these two hadn't seen Jesus so they couldn't verify it. He had been on pilgrimage, been to the holy city, perhaps witnessed some of the events of Holy Week, but it had been for nothing.

Until now.

The painting is Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus. 1601. London: National Gallery.

See Christ as the pilgrim in this week's Art&Faith Matters Facebook post. Click on the link below.

No comments:

Post a Comment