We can learn a vital lesson from the Emmaus story in the way great artists have portrayed Christ’s breaking of the bread with the two disciples in classic art.
Rembrandt, the great Dutch painter, did two versions of the supper at Emmaus. In both, the two disciples are filled with joy and awe. Yet in both, a servant seems oblivious to what is taking place at the table.
Another very famous painter, the Italian Caravaggio, also created a scene showing two amazed disciples with a serene Jesus. But his work was criticized by the people of his time for “lacking decorum” because the man serving the table in the painting seems bored and wears a hat—a sign of disrespect.
The great French painter Delacroix showed a dark room lit by a golden halo that surrounds Jesus while he dramatically breaks the bread. But again, in a staircase just behind the scene, a woman in the painting is shown who completely ignores the miracle happening right in front of her.
These famous paintings of Emmaus carry a warning: It doesn’t matter how close we are to the presence of Jesus. We can still completely ignore him, and therefore never experience the transforming power of his love.
It’s not enough to be next to Jesus, or to approve of his teachings, or to know “about” him. We need to love him. We need to be with Jesus, and in Jesus. And no one can ever be fully “with” Jesus if she or he rejects the Catholic Church, the Church Jesus founded precisely to act in his name and fulfill his promise, so that he would remain with us until the end of time.
The sacrament of the Eucharist that anchors our life as Christians comes to us through the power given to the Church by Jesus himself. In adoring Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we celebrate the mystery of his Church as well.