The Gospel story of the two disciples travelling near a village called Emmaus on the evening of Easter Sunday who meet a stranger whom they eventually realise is the resurrected Jesus Christ has always made a deep impression on me.
Partly it is to do with seeing at an early age a reproduction of Caravaggio’s painting, where the startling chiaroscuro and the figures’ outstretched arms made it so much more dramatic, so much more alive than more conventional, flatter biblical scenes.
Partly also it related to my early interest in historical fiction and drama, the genre where real life events and characters are readily mixed with the writer’s imagination. As a Christian child who was fascinated by stories, I was particularly intrigued by the occasional biblical examples, of which the best known is definitely the film of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur.
Perhaps a school holiday which combined brighter spring evenings with its religious feast helped me to imagine what it might have been like to have been one of the observers of that event taking place as the sun was setting on that Easter Sunday.
The narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection during Holy Week and Easter was presented theatrically from the Middle Ages through mystery plays, and most Christian church services during this season have continued to employ some dramatic elements.
The theory that the two disciples were actually a man and a woman, Cleopas and his wife, gives the familiar narrative a fresh perspective. In addition, Kenny Wordsmith’s analysis of Caravaggio’s painting offers one particularly insightful comment on the drama. Referring to the fact that Caravaggio’s youthful unbearded Jesus was once controversial, he says this could be the artist’s way of depicting the moment when Jesus, to use Luke’s expression, “was recognised when he broke the bread” : someone who looks totally unfamiliar and unbelievable at first is now identified correctly, both by the disciples with him and by us, the viewers.