April 30, 2017
The 17th century artist Diego Velazquez
painted a picture of today’s gospel reading.
His painting is on display at the National Gallery of Art of Ireland in Dublin
and is called The Kitchen Maid….
Feel free to look through the reading again…
Where’s the kitchen maid?
Luke doesn’t include the kitchen maid…
But of course there was one.
If there was a meal served in Emmaus,
there was a woman behind the scenes preparing it.
She is simply unnamed and unnoticed.
Velazquez notices her though.
She is the focal point of the painting.
In fact for years, before the painting was restored,
the figures of Jesus and his two companions were completely missing from the painting.
Only after the restoration did they appear in the upper left corner.
The maid is front and center.
She is bending over a wooden table but there’s something surprising…
She has dropped her rag,
a dish lays on its side,
and it looks like she has to hold onto the side of the table
or she will fall over!
Her face is slightly turned toward Jesus and his companions,
and it is clear she’s listening to the conversation.
There is a light falling across her face
which has a shocked expression,
as she has discovered whom she has just served….
before the other companions have.
But there’s even more to the painting…
Even more than the fact that a servant woman recognizes Jesus
The kitchen maid is a Moor – she is an African Muslim slave –
Velazquez painted her image in 1620,
when there was still a vibrant memory
of how Christians had (often savagely) conquered the North African Moors
and expelled them from Spain.
Velazquez has chosen to paint a lowly slave woman – a Moor of all people –
as the one who recognizes Jesus first.
As Luke tells the story,
some women told the disciples about the risen Jesus,
but the men do not believe them.
Velazquez continues the theme of the outsider who sees Jesus
by suggesting that once again an outsider
a young, mulatto serving girl
sees Jesus and recognizes him before others do.
Perhaps it’s still true that outsiders
tend to be the first to recognize Jesus.
Those who have been out of the mainstream,
who have struggled,
who have suffered,
Who have been sidelined,
know better when they are in the presence of Jesus than those who have not.
This week I went to a presentation by a pastor from Seattle
who has begun a new way to do church –
or at least it seems rather new to us, but it’s actually more like what happened in the early church.
He’s started a series of gatherings not on Sundays,
But on Mondays, and Thursdays and Tuesdays….
And it doesn’t meet in a church building –
It meets in VFW Halls and community centers.
And it doesn’t serve a little square of bread and sip of grape juice and call it a meal –
It is a full dinner – it is dinner church.
They’ve formed partnerships and friendships,
And now most every night of the week there is a community dinner church in Seattle.
For many it has been life-transforming.
Melodee, the pastor’s wife, shared a story about one of the women
We’ll call Linda, who attended the church.
One evening, a stranger had knocked at the door of Linda’s apartment.
After a brief conversation at the door, she felt comfortable enough to invite him in,
and they sat and had tea and talked and then he left.
The next night it happened again.
The man arrived at her door and knocked;
She invited him in and they sat and had tea and talked.
And then he left.
For several nights in a row the same thing happened.
It began to be a routine.
Linda began to look forward to the evening knock at her door.
There was something about the man that made her feel
Welcomed, respected, loved….
And that hadn’t happened often in her life.
Oh – and the man had said that his name was “Jesus.”
Well just as quickly and mysteriously as these meetings started,
And Linda was distraught.
She didn’t know what happened to her friend.
So she went outside to the streets
and started asking people,
“Have you seen Jesus?”
“Have you seen Jesus? Where is he?”
Eventually she found her way to one of these dinner churches in Seattle.
Now as Melodee the pastor’s wife spoke she explained
That everyone is welcome at dinner church;
And there is often a good number of homeless people present –
People who don’t have access to showers.
And so the dining hall quite frequently smells…
It smells ‘bad’, Melodee said.
And the day when Linda showed up to dinner church,
Was a day when it really smelled bad!
Melodee greeted Linda – and as she walked in the door, Linda was beside herself.
She excitedly looked around and exclaimed,
“Jesus is here! He’s here!
I know it…because this is what he smells like.”
And she went on to tell Melodee
How Jesus had shown up at her apartment door.
Now that is a bizarre story to say the least.
Is it true?
Would someone else – would I – have been able to see Jesus in that apartment?
I don’t know.
But perhaps that’s the point.
Perhaps that’s the point that Jesus makes with Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus;
Perhaps that’s the point that Velazquez makes with his painting:
Sometimes we miss Jesus.
Sometimes we miss him because we don’t recognize his smell.
Sometimes we miss him because we don’t believe the people
who are trying to tell us about him.
Sometimes we miss him because we’re so preoccupied with our own lives,
or frightened of strangers,
that we don’t answer the knock at the door.
Sometimes we miss Jesus.
Thank God for the outsiders.
Thank God for the kitchen maid, for the women at the tomb, for Linda,
and for others who point him out to us,
who help us to see him, hear him, and yes – smell him.