First pub. 4.19.14
Priscilla At The Table And Her "Fractio Panis" Fresco In Rome
"I tell you this: the truth is, not that Moses gave you the bread from heaven, but that my Father gives you real bread from heaven." John6,32-33.
"I am speaking of the bread that comes down from heaven, which man may eat and never die." John6,50-51.
"All flesh is not the same flesh: there is flesh of men, flesh of beasts, of birds, and of fishes- all different. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, and the splendor of heavenly bodies is one thing,..." 1Corinthians 11,39-40 (NEB)."And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread..." Acts20,7.
Breaking Good-Bread From Heaven
There's an interesting fresco, "Fractio Panis" (second-third century AD), in the Roman catacombs at the tomb of Priscilla.
Priscilla and her husband Aquila were confidants of the Apostle Paul, and he gives them both great honor at Romans 16,3-5 when he refers to them as "my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their necks to save my life, and not I alone but all the gentile churches are grateful to them. 5 Greet also the church that meets at their house."
In other words, Paul is sharing the credit for founding the universal gentile mission, in Rome, and elsewhere.
For her service she gets the distinct honor of a fresco painting upon the arch above her Roman tomb.
(This honorable fresco and Prisca's place at the table preceded the Roman clerical tradition that joined non biblical based Vatican ordained-by-man-priesthood with biblical apostleship and pastoring as if this priesthood is part of Christian revelation regarding the biblical offices of Apostle and pastor. Ephesians4,10. The only priesthhood in biblical based Christianity is the universal biblical priesthood of all the faithful, of both men and women. This is given only by Jesus Himself (it's His priesthood, not by any laying on of a man's hands) by way of any person's personal faith in Jesus unto the sanctification of baptism in the Spirit. 1Peter2,5 and 9).
In this painting there are seven individuals seated at table, Priscilla prominantly and beautifully featured (it's her tomb), to the left of an apostle (? if this man is an apostle it's more likely recalling Paul than Peter, for we know Paul actually got there from his letter to the Romans) at the center the table, who may also be immediatly flanked on his right by another, albeit less prominant, woman.
We have already made the case for women at Corinth blessing the cup and breaking the bread, ie "the bread we break, the cup we bless (1Corinthians 10,16, see Table of Lord Meditation N. 21). This fresco does no violence to this biblical claim.
But the point of this meditation is to rightly and biblically focus on the resurrectional primacy of the Lord's Supper, namely that the risen Jesus' is our bread from heaven, brought to the table, by the responsive choice of God Himself, by his blessing of our acceptable Spiritual sacrifice (1Peter2,5).
The historically based last supper depictions of Mark, Matthew and Luke, contrast but do not contradict this visionary supper of John 6,32-33, and this fresco, both of which show it as part of the miraclous physical feedings of the multitudes (John6,5ff), but also that it is more important than them.
We are in the Christian Passover season, resurrection season. So it is fitting that we duly note that at Luke 24,30 the two disciples recognized the risen Jesus, on resurrection day, in the breaking of the bread. He was there, the risen Jesus was there, at their meal that day, feeding them with his risen presence.
If he's there at the breaking of the bread, why is it so hard to accept that his presence enters the bread and wine that we are commanded to bless?
In this fresco, at the left, God the Father, is the bearded dispenser of this heavenly bread. The subjects of the fresco have recognized from whom and from where comes this miracle bread. It comes from him, from heaven. It doesn't come from man. It's Spiritual bread. It's blessed bread. It comes from heaven, the same place Jesus came from. It's risen bread. It's Jesus' risen "flesh"-bread after our faithful blessing of it is accepted, and it is blessed by God himself.
How can we say Jesus' risen flesh-bread?
1Corinthians15,39-40, clearly teaches that "flesh" isn't always limited to a physical body or reality (likewise "the two become one flesh" in marriage, which is not just physical, ie the two become one). According to the word, there's physical-bodily flesh and there's also Spiritual bodily or risen "flesh."
The bread-flesh from the table is this latter "flesh."
From the subject matter of the fresco, and her presence at the table, we know that Priscilla has eaten this bread from heaven, Jesus' risen "flesh", and she, says the fresco, is now fully alive (John 6,51).
We also note that there is nothing in the fresco that even remotely refers to Jesus' long gone, no longer existing physical body. Instead we see God, depicted as Father (who is Spirit), depicted bodily, seated and present as well at the supper, dispensing the heavenly bread, His bread.
No Wine At This Table
There's no wine on the table, thus no mention or depiction of "blood" or suffering at all. At first this is curious. It may be that there was some continuing resistance among the largely Jewish based initial church at Rome, who perhaps were reluctant to openly depict the drinking of His Spiritual "blood" (per John 19,34, his sprinkled blood, ie his Spiritual blood per Isaiah 52,15, Hebrews12,24 and 10,22; ), or blood of any kind, pursuant to the prohibition of eating flesh with physical blood still in it, per Leviticus 17,3-6;10-14.
David Instone-Brewer, Senior Research Fellow in New Testament Rabbinics at Tyndale notes that Hebrew Priests after the Hebrew scripture canon had closed would go out of their way to avoid even the suggestion of drinking blood, even refraining from drinking cultic wine symbolic of blood, because the aforementioned biblical taboo against drinking blood was so strong. He cites Ben Sira 50,15 for the custom of pouring out even cultic wine rather than drinking it; cf Numbers 15,10. (bethinking.org/bible-scandals/3-supplanting-passover).
Instone-Brewer also surmises that at the last seder Jesus said "this is my blood" after the apostles had already drank (the third seder cup) the wine. He said so, according to Instone Brewer, to minimize their scandal, the same scandal of folks leaving Jesus because of his repeated and insistant statement about drinking his (prophesied Spiritual or sprinkled) "blood" (John 6,52ff).
This biblical based taboo was also complicated by the fact that the initial Christian Church faced the charge of cannibalism. Faith defenders like Justin Martyr and Tertullian had to confront this in the second century, at the same time as this fresco. So perhaps the artists who commissioned this work just steered clear of the wine-blood altogether.
I bring this abscence of wine or cup here to note that both the focus of John 6 and this fresco is on the risen heavenly-quality of the bread. This focus serves to open us to a much needed fuller and proper understanding of Hebrews 10,5 ("Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but you have prepared a body for me.")
Hebrews 10,5 is not primarily about another physical sacrifice that God did not desire (but willed), but about Jesus' eternal risen body, His Spiritual body (1Corinthians15,44), the one seated at the right hand of the father, that is filling all the heavenlies of the the universe (Ephesians1,23), the one we will see coming back to gather his own (Revelation 22,20, Zechariah 9,14, and Zechariah 12,10 ).
His presence, His risen body, that is still with us at the table! If we have the biblical faith for what God has promised and prophesied about the supper.
Here in the fresco there is nothing about discerning Jesus' dead body on Calvary and his physical blood (as in 1Corinthians11,27ff). Paul likely cited these less resurrectional aspects of the supper because the church at Corinth was still mired in the sin for which Jesus died. Thus, some of them are sick and have died in their lack of faith state. Some of the church at Corinth needed to remember the reason for his death at the supper, whereas Priscilla, per the fresco, had eaten the bread from heaven here on earth with faith, and thus per the fresco had already passed from death to eternal life.
But our point here in this our 26th meditation, this Passover point, is that the broken bread is depicted here as a miraclous risen bread, bread from heaven, bread given-blessed by the Father, even at an earthly table of the Lord!
It's not easy to see, due to the age of the fresco, but some commentators state that Priscilla is veiled (newadvent.org). This suggests that one needs a clean and repentant conscience, to eat this bread from heaven, to approach the table. Though married to Aquila on earth, in heaven she is part of Jesus' chosen kingdom bride, who made herself ready (Revelation 19,7), and thus she appears as a veiled virgin (cf Revelation14,4).
It's also notable that the veil, and the status afforded Priscilla at the table, suggests that Priscilla was an especially exemplary and obedient woman servant among the male leaders of the early church. This is clearly the teaching of 1Corinthians11,5ff, where to be veiled means to be under male authority, and thus fully welcome to participate in the Lord's supper, and the prayers and occasional prophesies therein.
But the primary sign of the veil is that Priscilla was especially chosen (not just for her seat at His table, or her particular missionary service, and her ability to be under male authority) and part of the final "bride" of Christ.
This "Fractio Panis" fresco affords Priscilla great honor in the history of the Christian church as well as a needed reminder of the importance and biblical depth of the Lord's Supper, and it's resurrectional focus according to John 6,32-33; 50-51; 53-55.
This resurrectional focus in no way makes the "real food" and "real drink" (John6,55) enjoyed at the table any less real because it is supernatural, and not physical (1Corinthians10,3-4 "spiritual food" and "spiritual drink").
Shalom upon all God's children.
Happy Christian Passover, following Jesus.
And Thanks and all Praise to Jesus for His great love and provision.
That we all would come to know him in the breaking of His risen body-bread. In his mighty NAME, we pray.
For a short video synopsis of the supper: http://vimeo.com/63572579
If you or your church would like coaching as to a biblically based lord's Supper, let us know.
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...