This very human story of how Christ talked anonymously with two mourning disciples is found in St Luke’s gospel, although it’s briefly mentioned in St Mark’s too (16:12-13).
Pope Benedict XVI once summarised it very well. He said: “It tells the tale of two followers of Christ who, on the day after the Sabbath or the third day after his death, were leaving Jerusalem sad and dejected, bound for a village that was not far off called, precisely, Emmaus. They were joined on their way by the Risen Jesus but did not recognize him. Realizing that they were downhearted, he explained, drawing on the Scriptures, that the Messiah had to suffer and die in order to enter into his glory.”
He went on: “Then entering the house with them, he sat down to eat, blessed the bread and broke it; and at that instant they recognized him but he vanished from their sight, leaving them marvelling before that broken bread, a new sign of his presence. And they both immediately headed back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples of the event.”
The exact location of Emmaus isn’t known for certain. Equally, the identity of the two disciples is a matter of debate. One of the disciples is named as ‘Cleophas’, who may possibly have been a relative of St Joseph. The other is unnamed, although the amount of detail in the story – and the fact that it occurs only in St Luke’s gospel – raises the intriguing possibility that it may have been St Luke himself.
On the other hand, perhaps it was the wife of Cleophas, or any one of the other seventy disciples – male or female. The lack of specifics in the story has enabled it to be interpreted on another level. One of the underlying messages may be that Christ accompanies all of his disciples, past and present, along the journey of life.
This stained glass window tells the story of Emmaus in two scenes. On the left, the Risen Christ talks with the two disciples as they walk together. The gospel text in Latin (mane nobiscum quoniam advesperascit) refers to their invitation for him to stay with them that evening. On the right, the two disciples are seated at table with Christ, who is breaking bread. This was the gesture that caused them to finally recognise him before he disappeared. The message, reflected in the Latin text (et cognoverunt eum in fractione panis), is clear. From now on, Christ’s physical presence would only be in ‘the breaking of bread’ – in other words, the Eucharist.
The Gothic Revival window, by the Hardmans firm, dates to 1914 and is found within the chapel of St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School, in Slough. The Emmaus Supper, probably because of its association with the Mass, has long been a popular subject in Christian art. For some reason, however, it is somewhat of a rarer subject within Catholic churches across the UK. This window is particularly exceptional in that it tells the two ‘halves’ to the story – both the meeting on the road as well as the evening supper.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
St Bernard’s Grammar School chapel, Slough
Read the relevant passage