Image by Rebecca Brogan, “Bread from Heaven”, www.jtbarts.com used with permission
Pentecost 16, September 20, 2020
St. Martin North Vancouver
“Bread of Heaven”
“Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty; hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more,
Feed me till I want no more.”
- text William Williams 1717-1791
I hear the grumbling. I’ve done some myself. “When will this be over? If only I hadn’t lived to see these times. I remember how it used to be, back in the good old days. We could go where we wanted, do what we wanted, eat what we wanted. Yet here we are in this smoky, deserted, terrible landscape, and we don’t see any end in sight. This far, we’d trusted you, but where has it got us?”
Every time we doubt and despair of good news, God listens and God provides a response. It’s enough to get us through another day. That’s one reason it’s important to pay attention to the stories of our faith; they give us examples of where people have hit bottom before and what has gotten them through. What a gift we have today in our Hebrew Scripture reading from Exodus! The retelling of God giving people bread from heaven to sustain them in the wilderness has something to say to us today as we navigate the wilderness of our lives in these times.
Don’t tell me you’re not hungry. We are in world where there are many types of famine. For too many, basic food insecurity is a daily struggle. The pandemic has fractured both the ability to grow and harvest crops and lines of supply and distribution. People who have lost jobs, been unable to find work, or have had benefits reduced know the anxiety and effort to feed their households. Shortfalls in social assistance and worker protection have been laid bare. And there is a basic problem in getting food safely home even if it is available on a store shelf. Thanks be to God for the sometime miraculous ways that what we need comes to our doorsteps.
But there are other kinds of hunger as well. Who among us has not been denied the opportunity to gather physically with those we love and the communities that support our wellbeing? I believe each of us is yearning not only for food but for others to share a meal. Some have found creative ways to extend that experience virtually. But even a crumb with a friend close by is more beautiful than a banquet alone. Even a physically distanced meeting when we are “in our own tents” is better than nothing.
Which brings us to the experience of what the Bible refers to as “the whole congregation” in the wilderness in Exodus 16. That’s who we are: the whole congregation. And like the Israelites, we are sick and tired of our situation and wondering what our leaders- and God- are going to do about it. Now Moses has been trying his best, but he doesn’t have any answers at this point. It’s up to the Lord to come through with what the people need in that moment. In response to their complaint that they were starving (and you have to admit, that’s a pretty valid cry for help), God sends bread from heaven.
Literally. We don’t know exactly what it was. Even the people who saw it said “Man hu?” in Hebrew, meaning: what is it? But this manna worked out to be just enough for their daily caloric intake. They gathered as much as each needed- not as much as each wanted. The hoarders later found out the hard way that it doesn’t pay to stock up for personal gain. (A warning to all who buy more than their share of toilet paper in the future). But here was the bread that the Lord gave them to eat, and it was enough: “Dayeinu”.
This morning, for the first time in 6 months, we celebrate the Eucharist together. For those who are ready, there is a wafer of bread, blessed in the name of the one God who listens and provides for your needs. It is a gift to bless you in your time of hunger, of anxiety, of loneliness, and of scarcity. Whether you take it physically or witness to the gathering here assembled, the provision of God is symbolized by this small piece of bread. It is not much, in itself. But it is enough for now.
Last weekend at the Cathedral I received communion for the first time since we ceased the celebration here at St. Martin’s. At the installation of the new dean, Chris Pappas, a few of the senior clergy and the diocesan council were present by invitation. And as our archbishop Melissa broke the bread and lifted the cup, there were tears in many of our eyes. Our deep, deep hunger for community and communion were being answered in this symbolic meal. And as I thought of all the special social events that we have not been able to mark with parties and feasts in the last half year, I was very grateful for this holy fragment.
The larger good news that accompanies the story of the exodus is the story of Jesus. In response to the world’s hunger to know the love of God, Jesus came among us. He is the true bread from heaven, which the Hebrews in the wilderness had a foretaste of when they gathered up the manna. And through him, we come together as the Church once again after our long fast, to be met in our need through this sacrament. The body of Christ is here among us as we share this bread. And again, it is enough.
So come as you are, in person or in spirit, with your hands or your heart open so that God can give you what you need for this day. And may the whole world be fed by what we do now. Amen.