An Angel Appeareth with a Book, from The Revelation of Saint John the Divine with Lithographs by Hans Feibusch

Hans Feibusch

An Angel Appeareth with a Book, from The Revelation of Saint John the Divine with Lithographs by Hans Feibusch, 1946, Lithograph, 304.8 x 381 mm, The British Library, London, p.26, © The British Library Board L.R.298.dd.2

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Eucharist on Patmos

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John tells us that he received his vision on the remote island of Patmos ‘on the Lord’s Day’ (Revelation 1:10). Sunday, the day of the resurrection, was the day on which early Christians gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. John says nothing more about this context. Did he experience his vision while worshipping with fellow Christians? Or was this a solitary experience? Western art has tended to imagine John alone, apart from the presence of an eagle, his traditional symbol in Christian iconography. Eastern tradition, by contrast, has John accompanied by his disciple and scribe Prochorus (see Acts 6:5), and engaged in intense prayer and fasting.

Debates about John’s setting notwithstanding, this particular passage has eucharistic undertones which are frequently overlooked. John receives his revelation not primarily by hearing or even reading, but by ingesting. Readers of the Gospels will hear in the heavenly command to ‘Take it and eat’ (labe kai kataphage auto, literally ‘Take and devour it’) an echo of Christ’s command to his disciples at the last supper (labete phagete, ‘Take and eat’, Matthew 26:26). The connection is not lost on Hans Feibusch. His angel gently places the book in John’s open mouth, as if administering the host, while extending his right hand in the pose of priestly blessing. In response, John raises his hand to receive the heavenly gift. Like the faithful communicant, he is to embody what he now ingests.

This echo of Christ’s words of institution takes on added significance if, as many scholars believe, John’s Apocalypse was intended to be read aloud to Christians in the seven churches of Asia when they gathered for their own eucharistic celebrations. The ‘words of prophecy’ (1:2) they heard are as transformative and life-giving as the bread and cup they received. Word and sacrament: both are potent expressions of Christ’s living presence.

 

References

Coke, David (ed.). 1995. Hans Feibusch: The Heat of Vision (London: Lund Humphries)


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