Our reading today from the Revelation concerns what we call The Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is the greatest wedding reception of all time.
“For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready.”
The Bible often describes the people of God as His Bride. We read this in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and especially Hosea – in which his marriage to Gomer is a metaphor for God’s relationship with His unfaithful people.
Gomer is more than adulterous – she enters a life of prostitution – just as the Hebrew people had sold their souls to gods, to idols, other than the one true God. Hosea buys his wife back from slavery – as God has bought His people back from slavery to sin and death with the life of His Son.
All of Hosea’s marriage is about love and redemption. In his letter to the
Ephesians, Paul writes that all human marriage is a metaphor for the love of Jesus Christ for His Church.
As we will sing at the end of our service of worship, “From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy Bride; with His own blood He bought Her and for Her life He died.”
So this is not new imagery. But to understand fully the metaphor of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – and with it, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or Communion – we have to understand Hebrew marriage customs.
A man would choose a wife. Once the families agreed to the terms of marriage in front of two witnesses, the couple was considered betrothed. This union was blessed by God, and it made the couple both legally and morally man and wife. They belonged to each other. But the marriage had not been consummated, so did not live together.
This should help us understand Mary’s predicament when Gabriel told her she would give birth to the Messiah. Because she was betrothed to Joseph at the time, she could have been stoned for adultery.
So betrothal was not the same for them as engagement is for us. We usually consider it a time of getting to know each other. The agreement can be broken relatively easily if one party or the other decides that marriage is not a good idea. Although it should be noted that the courts have been siding lately with the female in letting her keep the ring.
But in Hebrew culture, backing out of betrothal required a divorce. This helps us understand Joseph’s thoughts about divorcing Mary quietly, to spare her the public shame and possible death sentence.
About a year later, the wedding ceremony was held – followed by a week-long reception. This is what was in mind when John heard the voice announcing the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It takes place in a place outside time and space where Jesus will take His Bride – all of His people – the Church – to be with Him forever.
Wouldn’t that be good reason to celebrate? And we do – every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But we don’t usually think of it that way.
For Roman Catholics – and please forgive my oversimplification here – the death of Jesus on the cross is an ongoing reality, so that those who take the bread and wine are actually consuming the body and blood of Jesus. At the same time, they continue to look like, taste like, smell like, feel like, and sound like bread and wine.
For Lutherans – Jesus is spiritually present in and all around the bread and wine.
For Baptists, Pentecostals, and most other non-liturgical churches – the bread and the wine are simply symbols of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.
But for those of us in the Reformed Tradition – the Lord’s Supper makes us participants in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. John Calvin wrote that when we who live in this realm of time and space take the bread and the wine, the Holy Spirit lifts us into the eternal real where we have a seat at the table for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. As Calvin explained it, it is there that our soul are fed with the body and the blood of Jesus.
Not only is it remarkable in that we have this out-of-body experience in the heavenly realm where time and space don’t count – but also that we are seated at the table with our Lord. We commune with Jesus.
And all the saints of every time and place are at the table, too. All those believers who have gone before us and those who will come after us are there. Loved ones, mentors, our old Sunday School teacher – we commune with them.
We probably are not aware of what’s going on – but maybe you have experienced this. I hope you have.
I can remember clearly one Christmas Eve, kneeling at the rail at the front of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling. As the cup was handed to me, and I looked at the deep red wine swirling at the bottom, I lost contact with my surroundings and for an instant sensed that my Savior had handed me His lifeblood in a cup.
Which is why it is essential that we have a clear understanding of what is going on when we come to the Lord’s Table. If we don’t, we miss the power of what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Lord’s Supper.
The latest trend in Communion is little cups of grape juice, hermetically sealed, with a communion wafer on top, and another seal over that. They are designed to save time – but not money – preparing for Communion. They are very handy for taking Communion to home, nursing homes, and hospitals.
But my nephew, Phillip, called me one Sunday after he had worshipped with a church where Communion was just a way of remembering Jesus and His sacrifice. “Uncle David!” he said excitedly, “I walked in the door and saw baskets filled with Eucharistic Lunchables!”
The pastor had mentioned during the service that they were having Communion that day, so anyone who wanted to could take one of them home.
Where is the Communion in that? Maybe Communion with Jesus as individuals, but certainly not Communion with each other. And there is no connection with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb – which we experience spiritually every time we come to the Lord’s Table, and will experience physically when we rise to eternal life at the end of time.
This might make you feel that the Lord’s Supper should be a solemn and somber ritual – but it is not. It is meant to be a celebration – like a wedding reception. All the faithful of every time and place will be there. Even better, Jesus will be there. We should be celebrating.
So when we have Communion in two weeks on Pentecost, and you hear the words, “Supper’s Ready,” come to the table expecting something miraculous, something transcendent, something worth celebrating.