Our Hearts Burning :: Rembrandt van Rijn, “The Supper at Emmaus”

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Supper at Emmaus, Oil on canvas; 1648.

The resurrection of Jesus is shockingly miraculous but also astoundingly earthy. Nowhere is that more clear than in the story recorded in Luke 24 of Jesus’ walking and lingering with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. This apparently chance encounter involves various ordinary aspects of life: walking, travel, eating, conversation. Not until the end of the story is the miraculous revealed—Jesus is risen and in their midst!—after which Jesus vanishes. After the fact, these two disciples reflect on what was happening within them throughout their encounter with Jesus: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). The ordinary is set ablaze by resurrection presence and power. Jesus is here with us, right down to the ordinary action of eating, drinking, and sharing of conversation. There are echoes of this mysterious mixture of the extraordinary and the ordinary in other post-resurrection appearances: Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener (John 20:15), Thomas longs to see and touch Jesus (John 20:25), and Jesus makes breakfast for His disciples after they fish (John 21:7-9). Each episode is a beautiful conflation of Jesus in His resurrection glory and Jesus in His resurrected flesh and bone.

Rembrandt painted the supper at Emmaus twice in his life, once in 1629 and once in 1648. The earlier version of the painting is striking and larger than life, with Jesus profiled in shadow, illuminated with brilliance, while one disciple knocks over his chair in an effort to fall down at Jesus’ feet. The later version of the painting, which we see above, is less dramatic and more ordinary, but perhaps more poignant. Jesus is fully visible, with light shining on His face and hands, drawing attention to His words and actions. Jesus prepares to break the bread, and the first hints of recognition appear upon the disciples’ faces. In the ordinary moment of a table meal, the extraordinary work of God has been revealed. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, our ordinary moments and lives are transformed by faith in Christ. Our walking, eating, conversing, and all mundane things are now something different. Even here and now, His presence and power are with us. Such truth may just set our hearts burning, too.

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