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The Resurrection: Blog entry from Fr Denis McBride's website, www.denismcbride.com

2014-04-24 08:18

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A Welcoming Presence
If you visit the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, you learn that Rembrandt lived in this house from 1639 until 1656, when he was declared bankrupt because he could not pay his debts. The house was in the centre of Amsterdam's Jewish community - composed mostly of Sephardic Jews who had fled Spain and Portugal during the time of the Inquisition. Rembrandt painted Supper at Emmaus in 1648 and broke with tradition by using a Jewish neighbour as his model for Jesus. In defiance of both anti-Semitism and the canonical tradition of portraying a European Jesus, Rembrandt portrays Jesus as a Jew.

Rembrandt was a student of the Bible and a Protestant: the established religion in his country was the Dutch Reformed Church and strict Reformed theology banned images of Christ as idolatry. Rembrandt had many Lutheran, Catholic and Jewish clients and felt free to portray Jesus not only from his own lively interpretation of the Gospels but in the light of his Jewish neighbours.

The upper part of the painting is stark and vacant; the light comes through a window in the upper left. Behind the figure of Jesus there is a monumental arch, carved from rough stone, which would not look out of place in a Romanesque basilica. The suggestion of a church apse leads the eye to interpret this table as an altar, a reading supported by the fact that the table is dressed with a heavy fringed fabric, a white cloth on top, reminiscent of the altar cloth and the white corporal which decorate the altar at Mass.

As Jesus breaks the challah bread - the Jewish braided loaf - the eyes of the two disciples are opened. The face of Christ is extraordinarily gentle, even vulnerable, as the divine radiates through his humanity, lighting up the praying hands of the disciple on the left. This is not the depiction of a distant majesty to be worshipped from afar, but the portrait of a humble host who invites us to join him at table. A dog dozes on the lower left, completing the domestic scene. We feel at home with this Jesus, at ease in his warm welcoming presence, eager to share the bread that is life.

Prayer
O Lord Jesus Christ,
on the first Easter Sunday
you joined two bewildered disciples
as they journeyed on the road to Emmaus;
you listened to the story of their experience,
how they knew you as a prophet mighty in deed and word;
you listened to the story of their expectations,
how they had hoped you would be the awaited Messiah.

Join us, dear Lord, on our roads of disappointment,
when what was once alive now appears lifeless;
when what was once appealing now seems wearisome;
when what was once sacred now looks profane.
Listen to us when we feel abandoned or betrayed,
when we are left feeling bewildered and hurt,
when our cherished hopes now seem like lost causes.

Speak to us a life-giving word,
one that helps us to understand ourselves anew,
one that enables us to see differently,
one that encourages us to hope again.
Most of all, dear Lord, welcome us to your table
so that we might be refreshed and revived
in eating the food of eternal life.

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