Rembrandt and Grief

Yesterday, I went to see the Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. What a treat! Now, I’m pondering what I saw, and thinking of you, my grieving friends. Here is how I see the 2 themes, the face of Christ and your grief, connecting. One of Rembrandt’s favorite themes was the Emmaus story (Luke 13:32). He drew, etched and painted it several times in different ways. In those pictures, he communicated the surprise of the disciples at the moment Jesus revealed himself.

You can see the bread in Jesus’ hands. You can see that the disciples, in that moment, understand this man with them is Jesus. That’s confusing since Jesus had died very recently but is with them right here right now. So they are surprised, delighted, confused and a bit scared at the same time. And you can see it all in the artwork.

I have written before about this story (blog: The Emmaus Hike) of the grieving disciples who, as they walked along to the next town, talked about their loss and grief since their friend and teacher had been murdered. Their whole life had been organized around following this man, now their lives were in total disarray. In addition to the grief, they had the issue of What To Do Now?! Jesus listened and He shared with them insights about the meaning of those events. Still they didn’t know it was Him. But at the table, when He broke the bread for dinner, a service He had performed in their presence so often, they knew Him for who He is. Rembrandt caught the instant their confusion and sorrow turned to recognition and outrageous JOY. Because He lives.

Another engraving in the exhibit is a rendering of this story (identified as a copy by a student of a lost Rembrandt painting) showing the moment after He revealed Himself, when He immediately disappeared! The looks on the faces of the disciples is priceless! It’s just what you’d imagine – surprise and joy mixed with astonishment yet understanding.

I just want to encourage you to be talking to Jesus as you walk along your grief journey. Tell Him your exact feelings and experiences. Ask Him to surprise you by revealing more about Himself to you as He did to the disciples. You are probably experiencing sorrow, confusion, fear. Ask Him to transform those into delight and joy by showing you Himself. Ask Him to show you what all this means! Ask Him what to do now! Note that the disciples “saw” Jesus, in an ordinary everyday act of breaking bread together. Look for Him in the ordinary things of your life too.

Let’s pray together: Jesus, I am going to walk forward in my grief, as much as I can identify which way is forward and with as much energy as I can find. Just like they did, I’m going to tell you all about my grief struggles. I ask that you walk with me, teaching me. And I ask that you reveal yourself to me, to my heart, as we go along. Thank you for doing this for the grieving disciples so long ago. Amen.