For those of you who grew up going to Sunday School, you may remember the catchy song “His Banner Over Me.” As a kid I remember liking the tune, but I really had no idea what all of the lyrics meant. To the song’s credit, I understood that it was talking about God’s extraordinary love for me- and that in and of itself was a huge win. But now at the age of 38 I’m beginning to understand those lyrics in a whole new way. For those who are unfamiliar with the song, there’s a line that says “He brought me to His banquet eating table, His banner over me is love.” These are the words I want to bring into focus today.
Now, you may be wondering why after all of these years I would be thinking of this particular song from my childhood. The short answer includes my husband’s birthday and a solo 10 mile run. (Just for clarification, those were two separate events.) Let me explain…
We celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday a few weeks ago by going on an overnight ski trip with a group of close friends (if you haven’t already, check out my Snow Trails post). This trip included not only skiing and a hilarious story involving a taxi van, but a dinner as well. I couldn’t even tell you the name of the restaurant but I can see it all perfectly in my mind: low lights for elegant evening dining, beautifully set tableware upon white table cloths, and soft music playing gently in the background. A truly gorgeous setting. As the nine of us sat around the table sharing appetizers and wine I felt feelings of peace, happiness, and great contentment. It may sound strange, but part of the feeling of joy was due in part to the generosity of sharing among friends; for the bottles and appetizers ordered were done so with no thought to the cost and with a liberal spirit. Perfection is really the only word I could use to describe that experience of camaraderie. It was in the midst of this beautiful moment that I was struck with the thought, “This must be what heaven will be like.”
I often think of heaven and try to imagine the glorious splendor of being in the presence of God. More times than I can count my mind has wondered what it will be like to be reunited with loved ones and to gather around the throne of Jesus together with all the saints. That evening at dinner my imagination was drawn to the great banquet that will be held in heaven one day. Although I wasn’t sure why at the time, it seemed the wine was a significant part of that picture.
All of this was roaming through my mind as I was contemplating what to write for my next blog post during the aforementioned 10 mile run. I was also thinking about the sermon from the day before- about the significance of Jesus turning water into wine. There were other topics I was toying with while on that run, but I just kept coming back to the image of that amazing dinner with friends, and for some reason, the wine. It was then the words He brought me to His banquet eating table surfaced from my memory. “Okay,” I thought, “This is what I am to write.”
The Song of Solomon is not a book of the Bible I read from very often, but it is in this book we find the following verse: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love,” (chapter 2 verse 4). For those who may be unfamiliar, the Song of Solomon (or sometimes referred to as the Song of Songs), depicts the love relationship between a husband and wife. In this particular verse, it is the wife who is describing the loving and noble actions of her husband; actions that could be seen as those of delight and protection.
As I was looking into this verse a little further, I had one of those moments when all I could do was just smile in amazement at how God works. I had no idea that the literal translation for banqueting house is “the house of the wine.” In King Solomon’s day this was a place of love, laughter, and joy- a place to celebrate and entertain friends. A place to feast and to drink wine.
Some commentators view the Song of Solomon not only as a teaching on the marital relationship, but as an analogy of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.” We again see this bridal relationship in Revelation 19:7 as the Apostle John wrote, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Indeed, it is in heaven when Christ, the groom, will be united to his bride, the church. And what a wedding banquet that will be!
This great banquet was foretold 700 years before Christ ever stepped foot on the earth by the prophet Isaiah. The description of this magnificent future event fills my heart with such hopeful anticipation: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” (Isaiah 25:6-8) I love everything about that passage, but especially the fact that the food and wine at that banquet will be better than the best food and wine we will have ever tasted in all our years here on earth! God desires to give us something that is better than anything we could ever imagine.
Not only did Isaiah tell of this great wedding feast, but Jesus himself spoke of it. In Matthew 26:29 he proclaimed, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And again in Luke 22:29-30: “And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” From these verses it is clear Jesus intends to bring his bride to his banqueting house. As Revelation 19:9 says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” The idea that we can be a part of that great banquet demonstrates God’s amazing love for us; because not only did He give His Son, Jesus, to redeem us from sin, but He invites us to be with Him forever in the most glorious setting imaginable for all eternity.
This was part of what Jesus communicated when he performed his first miracle; for not only did he miraculously change the water into wine, but he changed it into the best wine. When the master of the banquet tasted the wine Jesus had made (although at the time the master did not know where it had come from) he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now,” (John 2:10).
When I read that story I’m struck by not only the quality of the wine, but also the amount of wine Jesus created: approximately 120-180 gallons! It was like Jesus was saying, “Hey, I see your need and I am going to give you an abundance of the best wine you’ve ever had.” And that is what Jesus is for us. He came to be the answer to our greatest need: our need for a Savior. He offers us himself which is better than anything this world could ever possibly give us. In him we have abundantly more than we could ever dream of- he is the choicest wine imaginable.
It’s striking then that when Jesus and his disciples were partaking of the Last Supper, he chose the bread to represent his body and the wine to represent his blood- the blood by which our sins are forgiven and our wounds are healed; the blood that atones for our infinite transgressions against a holy God; the blood that declares we are justified and righteous- this is the blood represented by wine. This is the wine of the most joyous celebration ever conceived. It is the wine of gladness and supreme love. You see, I could never come to the banqueting house of God on my own; it is only because of the blood of the Lamb that this is possible. This is truly the wonder and beauty of the words He brought me to his banquet eating table.
For those who struggle with the idea of wine, allow me to briefly share with you what my pastor communicated to our church a few Sundays ago. He encouraged those who frown upon Christians partaking of wine to remember that Jesus came to free us from the law. But he also reminded us not to let wine become our master- and for those who struggle with addiction, to remember that Jesus came to free us from all sin and entanglements. (Giving encouragement to those in recovery that Jesus will uphold them as they abstain from alcohol.) In either situation, he reminded us that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1).
One thing is certain, in heaven all will be perfect and we will gather in the great banqueting hall to share in the love and delight of our God and our Savior. For those who are in Christ, we will all join together with him in eating the choicest meat and drinking the finest wine. Even now on earth we are invited to the table of God through the blood of Jesus. We are invited to drink deeply of the riches of His mercy and grace knowing that His banner over us is love…