The Lord's Supper Is a Rehearsal Dinner
My wedding rehearsal dinner was, in itself, a joyous experience. I don’t often think back and wish we would have eaten a certain food or gone to some other venue (though I do sometimes wish I had been wearing my beard a bit thicker at the time). In the providence of God, we managed to pull together just the precise blend of friends, family, and food to mark the miraculous union of two into one.
There is one odd bit of wedding culture, however, that I don’t think I ever fully managed to grasp before I experienced my own wedding: how important the rehearsal dinner is to making all that goodness happen. Aside from getting to eat a little more, what is the point of feasting before you feast?
Feasting with the Lamb
The buildup to a wedding is a microcosm of the whole of history. When John the Revelator recorded his vision of the drama of history, one of its key scenes is a wedding celebration.
On that day, the Bride, Christ’s church, will come arrayed in the splendor of spotless holiness to wed her king, and the glory of that festival will be unmatched bliss. The angel (rightly) says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9)
At that time, the promises of Isaiah 25 will be fulfilled. The prophet foresaw that on the day the Lord swallowed up death forever (Isa. 25:8), he would prepare “a feast of rich food for all peoples, / a banquet of aged wine— / the best of meats and the finest of wines” (25:6).
This is not a party you will want to miss.
Preparing to Feast
No wonder a number of Jesus’ parables have to do with wedding feast faux pas and mishaps. He tells one particularly striking story about 10 young maidens who were waiting for a wedding party to begin (Matt. 25). It was night, and while some had brought enough oil to keep their lamps lit, apparently others had not.
When the bridegroom came around, the five who were ready with oil were able to greet the wedding party and join the feast. The others were off buying more oil. They were locked out.
In another parable, we hear about two sets of wedding guests who find themselves shut out of the master’s feast (Matt. 22). The first group excluded themselves with lousy excuses—apparently they had better things to do.
The second group found themselves cast out because they had not bothered to change into the right clothes. They assumed this was any old party, so they could just show up wearing whatever—even the rags of unrighteousness.
Apparently, Jesus wants his disciples to be prepared for the party to come.
Yes, the Eucharist is the covenant meal the Lord gave us to remember his work, to receive his promises, and to proclaim his death until the day he returns (1 Cor. 11:26). But we are also being prepared for the wedding feast to come.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal that makes us. As we receive the bread and wine week by week (or month by month), we taste and see that the Lord is good, and we are nourished as we commune with him by his Spirit.
Recent theologians and philosophers have begun appreciating the formative power of habit and liturgy. The regular, repetitive practices we inhabit and cultivate tend to shape us over time: reconditioning us, making certain patterns of thought and activity “second nature.”
Jesus’ miracle at the wedding at Cana—turning water into the finest wine—was a sign of the coming of his kingdom, the glory of the wedding feast to come. Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper is like a wedding rehearsal we practice until our Lord returns..
Learning to Walk Down the Aisle
The night before my wedding, I learned that my natural gait isn’t “wedding processional speed.” Over the years, I have developed my own ways of walking. Typically I set a brisk pace and dodge and weave in and out of crowds.
This, apparently, is not the way you walk up the aisle with your bride.
The same holds true about the way you walk forward to receive the bread and the wine. There is a rhythm to feasting with the body. You have to remember, week by week, that you can only walk as quickly as the server is handing out the elements—or as slow your sister in front of you, whether young or old, can make it.
Receiving the bread and wine reminds you that if you’re always used to walking at your own pace, insisting on getting there in your own time and in your own way, you’ll ruin the rhythms of grace.
The Lord’s Supper trains us to step in such a way as to be receptive to the life he desires to give us. It’s one of the ways that God teaches us to “not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4). God’s gifts come to us as he deems it fit to give them—at his own pace, in his own time. We learn this by participating in the Lord’s Supper.
Foretaste of the Whole
These gifts also come to us in the company God chooses to celebrate with—which could be just about anybody.
Wedding parties are usually a representative blend of the guest list as a whole: some of your friends, some of hers, a sister or two, maybe a cousin. It’s not a guarantee that any of these people will know each other before they show up.
Often, the rehearsal dinner is the first time they’ll be in the same room—sitting at the table, eating together, learning names, figuring out who’s got a good sense of humor and who creates a bit of drama. The only thing they all have in common for certain is they want to celebrate the bride and groom gettin’ hitched.
Of course, wedding parties in particular can often make or break the event. In many ways, the people you select for your wedding party are the advance guard who set the pace—if they’re not the first out on the dance floor, odds are you won’t have many people dancing.
And so they gather with you the night before, practice walking down the aisle together, try to get over the awkwardness of the initial introductions, and sit down to break bread in anticipation of the festivities to come.
Each week, we gather to sup at the Lord’s Table at a church filled with people we only know because we know the Groom. Yes, biblically, we are the Bride. In an important sense, the festivities to come are for us.
But at that table, we also anticipate that feast as members of the wedding party that gathers from every tribe, tongue, nation, socioeconomic status, and cultural group to celebrate the cosmic union unto the coming ages.
There, we learn to break bread, share the cup, and begin to weave our lives, our hopes, and our joys together over an intimate meal with our Beloved.
Keeping Us Hungry
There’s usually a smaller spread at the wedding rehearsal than is laid out at the main event. This makes sense. The rehearsal dinner gets the job done, but at the end of it, you should still be looking forward to what’s coming.
Of course, the Lord’s Supper is a feast that perfectly embodies the “now and not yet” dynamic that New Testament scholars often talk about. Because of Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection, and the gift of the Spirit, the kingdom of God and its benefits are available now. But we don’t yet enjoy this reality in all its fullness—there is plenty yet to come.
Just so with the Supper. It’s the meal where we currently commune with Jesus through the power of the Spirit—he meets us mysteriously in the bread and the wine. Yet as we meet with him, we’re reminded that our time with him face to face is still yet to come. It’s the sort of presence that makes us more palpably aware of his absence.
In that sense, the Lord’s Supper is the meal that feeds us in order to leave us hungry for more. It’s the foretaste that sharpens our longing to experience the living God in the human face of Jesus.
As we leave, then, with the aftertaste of whatever humble vintage we’ve just partaken of, we walk out into our weeks with a greater appetite for the fruit we will savor on that coming day, knowing the Bridegroom has saved the best for last.