Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
If you’ve spent five minutes on Facebook you’ve probably seen a meme that begins with, “Remember when…” or maybe it was, “Are you old enough to remember when…” and then it goes on to extol the virtues of something or another, often execrating young whipper-snappers for the demise of some imaginary simpler time. Two things about that: One, young people are smarter than you may think; and two, the good old days were not as good as you may remember.
This is not a new phenomenon. Take, for example, the congregation of the Israelites… In this morning’s reading from Exodus they were missing the good old days of slavery back in Egypt. Hey, they might have been slaves, but at least they had their bread, and plenty of it to hear the old-folks tell it. As a result of their complaints, God sent the manna for them to eat and they did not die as they had thought they surely would.
This is another example of how simply looking around gave rise to a so-called miracle. The manna was always there, and it still is! Even now manna is eaten by Bedouin in the desert and it really is sweet, though I am not sure the comparison with honey holds. They gather it in the morning, just as the Israelites did, and save it in a safe place because in the day time when it gets hot, it becomes liquid or “disappears” due to the evaporation of its water content. If you are lucky enough to make friends with a Bedouin you should ask for some because it’s really quite nice.
We are not so far removed from Bible times or Bible people. It’s just a matter of looking around. In our modern times, with our modern problems, most of us find ourselves in some kind of desert, longing for something we may not even be able to articulate. At best, we complain, we click on the memes and we think, “Yeah, whatever happened to the good old days?” At worst, there’s the better living through chemistry crowd who maybe drink one too many, smoke just a little weed, or overindulge in food, spending, travel, status, position or whatever else may distract from the aching unarticulated yearning for something, whatever it is.
This, of course, is the part of the essay where I am supposed to connect the manna to Jesus himself, and to the Eucharist, the Christian festival meal observed every week in many churches. Go on up to the front of the church this morning and get your bread and drink your wine and enjoy the feeling of Jesus’ real presence. It’s a good and holy thing to do, but it is not enough. You’ll be hungry, worried, discontent again before bedtime. To find the real bread of life you have to look around. Get up before the heat of the day and scour the desert of life for food that will not disappoint. Every opportunity to serve, to feed, to lift up, and to love is bread from heaven. It’s everywhere. Go ahead, make yourself fat on the bread of good works.
And, look, you don’t have to save the world. Just do your part. The world that is in front of you is your mission field. You may be in a real desert, or a forest, or an office, a classroom, a home, a store, a warehouse, or an oil patch. Doesn’t matter. Wherever you are, there is undiscovered manna: a need you can meet, a kindness, a meal, something you can do.
Get up early on Monday, say your prayers and plan your day. And, as you plan, ask the divine presence to show you undiscovered manna, opportunities you may not have seen before. Then get ready… As the reading attests, God provides!
Linda McMillan is writing from Chiang Mai, Thailand where there’s plenty of manna.
Image: Moses’ View From Mt. Nebo, Linda McMillan, 2018