Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dinner Invitation -- A Communion Sermon


Revelation 19:6-10
Photo by Crystal Balogh


If you got invited to a big wedding banquet, would you get all excited? Would you see it as an opportunity to get all dressed up? Or would you wait to see if a better invitation came your way? I’ve been to a few wedding banquets in my time. Some were large and some small. Some were fancy and others were informal. Weddings are special events, and depending on your relationship with the couple, they might be can’t miss events.  

A few weeks back we heard Jesus tell a parable about a big banquet, which could have been a wedding banquet. In that story all the invited guests discovered that they had something better to do than attend the banquet (Luke 14:15-24). Our reading from Revelation 19 offers us another dinner invitation. This invitation is to the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” which takes place in the heavenly realm. The angel or messenger of God has declared that “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”  Yes, simply to be invited to this marriage supper is a blessing!


Who is this Lamb who is getting married? It is Jesus, the Lamb of God. Yes, this Lamb is the risen and exalted Jesus!  Who is the bride? It appears that this bride is the church or the saints of God, those on earth and those in heaven. The multitude that gathers for this wedding feast sing praises to God the Almighty.  

The use of this image of the bride to describe God’s people and the church is a fairly common one. Parables hint at it. Ephesians 5 develops it. We find it revealed in the Old Testament. Hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah: 
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,

how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. (Jer. 2:2)
Down through the ages, Christian theologians have read the Song of Solomon allegorically as a celebration of the intimate relationship between God and God’s people. While we have broadened out our vision of who can get married to whom, hopefully the image of intimacy between spouses comes through in this invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb!   

To get a sense of the moment, picture yourself standing in the midst of this great multitude gathered together in heaven singing:

Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready; . . .”  
If some of those words sound familiar, it’s because Handel used them as the foundation for the “Hallelujah Chorus.” This chorus, which stands at the end of the Messiah, reminds us of the glories of God’s reign and abundant nature of  God’s realm. This powerful chorus invites to imagine heaven as our future home, where we will join with the heavenly choir and sign praises to our God the Almighty!  

This morning as we reflect on this reading from Revelation 19, we’re returning to our conversation about the Lord’s Supper. Many of us have been exploring the meaning of the Supper for the past month or so, as we’ve read and discussed Norah Gallagher’s book The Sacred Meal. I’m hoping that you are finding this conversation illuminating and maybe even transformative. Hopefully you’re ready for more, because Ruth Duck will be with us in just two weeks for a workshop that will help us deepen the connection between the Supper and our life in the world. Ruth has written a new communion hymn for our event, and the first stanza of this hymn picks up on the vision of a banquet.

Prepare the banquet, make the feast of love.
Invite your neighbors, friends, and strangers too.
The table of the world is set for all.
Come, all who long for what is good and true.  [Ruth Duck]

This image of the marriage feast or banquet offers us a powerful vision of what is happening when we gather around the Lord’s Table. It is an eschatological image that connects what we do at the Table with our citizenship in God’s realm. When we gather at the Table we don’t just remember a past event, we envision the unfolding of God’s realm into the future. By linking our Table fellowship with this imagery of the wedding banquet, we’re reminded that the Lord’s Supper isn’t a funeral dinner. The risen and exalted Christ is the host of this meal. 

I like the way Disciples theologian Clark Williamson puts it: “The gift of salvation in the Supper is a foretaste of ‘the life of the world to come,’ a present but fragmentary reality.” [Guest in the House of Israel, p. 260]. When we gather at the Table each week, we do so in anticipation of that day in which we will experience the fullness of God’s reign. We break bread and lift the cup in expectation that we will have a share in the heavenly feast.  We experience some of it now, but only in fragmentary ways. A similar vision is found in the words of the hymn that Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13:  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” [1 Cor. 13:12 NRSV].

The message we hear in the Book of Revelation is a reminder that even if we experience brokenness in this life, wholeness or salvation comes to us as we participate in the realm of God, both now and into the eternity. We may only partially experience wholeness in this life, but as we draw closer to God in Christ, transformation occurs. This is the message of wholeness Disciples proclaim as we embrace our call to be a Table-centered church: 
“We are Disciples of Christ, a movement of wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” 
 As a Table-centered church, called to bear witness to God’s promise of wholeness, we come to the Table to be fed by the manna of God that nourishes us as we continue on this journey into God’s realm.

In a booklet that Keith Watkins wrote, and which we will read together in the winter months, Keith writes about finding hope in the promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He writes:
In the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Lord’s Supper has often been referred to as the medicine of immortality. I don’t know what is going to happen after death.  All that I can be sure of is that my life is tied to Jesus Christ and that he will keep me close so that God can reach out and enfold me in the arms of life. To keep that faith strong, I will continue to come to this table week after week to receive the bread and wine, Christ’s medicine of immortality.  [Patterns of Faith in a Table-Centered Church, 2014]
When a couple stands before the congregation and makes their wedding vows, they will often promise to love and be faithful to one another for “as long as we both shall live.”  When we gather at the table we’re invited to affirm our covenant vows, often entered into through baptism or confirmation, to love and be faithful to God, even as God loves and is faithful to us, for “as long as we both shall live.” And from a heavenly perspective, that is an eternity!

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Pentectost 23C
October 23, 2017

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