A MESSAGE FROM FATHER NICK 6 – 26th April 2020

A tale of two suppers…


…Or rather, two tales of a single supper. The meal at Emmaus which Luke describes in this Sunday’s gospel, is one of our best-loved Scripture passages. It teaches us and reassures us, and we respond to it from our hearts. That has been true for believers in every time and place. It was true even for the notorious “bad boy” artist Michelangelo Merisi, better known to us as Caravaggio, who painted the scene twice in contrasting circumstances.

            The first time was in 1601, when Caravaggio produced the famous version in the National Gallery, an artistic tour de force, brightly coloured, wonderfully composed and filled with energy and light. At the dramatic centre of the scene, a curiously un-bearded Christ adds to the impression of vibrant new life.

This was a time of peak success for Caravaggio, but there were ominous signs as he roamed the meaner streets of Rome, getting into brawls and carrying a sword – tellingly, most of what we know about him during this time comes from court records. In the end, the seemingly inevitable happened: he killed a man and had to flee from Rome. Desperate for pardon from the pope, he became an exile who would never return.

In the summer of 1606 just after the killing, while he was in hiding near Rome, he painted his second version of the Supper at Emmaus, and this is a very different kind of picture. Now the palette is dimmed and the faces all show suffering – even the face of Christ appears careworn. Caravaggio’s paintings of this time are described as having an “aching loneliness”.

What had changed? Not the meaning of Easter, but Caravaggio’s situation and perhaps his understanding of it all. At this special time of closeness to our risen Lord, we might remember how greatly our own circumstances affect our spiritual perception. Like the two disciples and like poor, desperate Caravaggio, we are asked to listen to the “stranger” we meet on our road. Led by him, we too can let our hearts burn within us.