“What Is It?”
It had only been six weeks since they left Egypt – six long weeks. They hadThey had been thirsty, and God had provided water.
After that brief respite in the oasis of Elim, they were on the move again, in the desert of Sin, on the Sinai Peninsula – a place where there was little food to be found. They are hungry, and they are “murmuring” against Moses and Aaron for taking them on the journey. They are looking back through rose-colored glasses at their time in Egypt, wishing for what they had there, conveniently forgetting about the slavery that oppressed them.
The murmuring takes the form it usually does when one feels like a bad decision has been made:
“I wish I hadn’t moved.”
“It was so much better when….”
“Remember what it was like back then?”
“I can’t believe you brought us here!”
“It would have been better if we’d never done that.”
It’s murmuring based on fear: fear of what’s to come, fear of not having what you need, fear that you trusted the wrong people, fear that you made a bad decision. Fear is a survival mechanism, and the Hebrews were definitely in survival mode.
After six weeks, the food is gone and they’re hungry, and they are wondering where they will find their next meal. Or more specifically – what Moses and Aaron are going to do about their next meal.
God hears them, and responds to them, telling Moses that bread will rain down from heaven for them. Moses and Aaron tell the people that God has heard their grumbling and will provide for them, but that there are specific instructions about how to gather this heavenly bread: gather only what you need, except on the sixth day when you may gather twice as much so you can enjoy Sabbath rest.
When they awakened the next day, they found the ground covered with thin flakes, and they asked, “What is it?” The word manna, in aramaic, literally means "What is it?"
If we are honest, we can recognize ourselves in the story. We sometimes look back through rose-colored glasses and imagine that things were so much better back then. We try to look forward, but we’re not sure where we’re going or what it will be like when we get there. We’re afraid that we won’t have what we need. We murmur. We don’t always recognize the gifts of God when they arrive.
And yet, we know this story reveals good news. What is the good news?
What is it? It is God’s presence, even in the midst of wandering and hardship.
What is it? It is God hearing our murmuring, our concerns, our fears, and responding in love instead of anger.
What is it? It is Moses and Aaron, faithful leaders, relaying the message of God.
What is it? It is God providing for our most basic needs on a daily basis.
What is it? It is the gift of enough – not too little and not too much.
What is it? It is the gift of instruction and guidance.
What is it? It is a warning against grasping for too much or hoarding for the future.
What is it? It is the gift of Sabbath, even in the midst of trials, and the rest from our labors, our worries, and our fears.
What is it? It is God hoping for our trust.
What is it? It is the story of the growing relationship between God and the people of God.
What is it? It is being surprised by God’s grace and abundant love.
When we come to the table, we may ask or be asked, “What is it?” What does this mean? There are many answers to that question. Here are a few:
· It is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with the
· It is a sacrament – the ordinary made holy.
· It is the gathering of the people of God at the heavenly banquet.
· It is celebrated by all Christians and unites us with Christians around the world and throughout the ages.
· It is the real presence of Christ.
· It calls to mind the last supper when Jesus commended the breading of bread and the sharing of the cup to remember and proclaim his death.
These are truths regarding the Lord’s Supper, and there are other truths not stated here.
But at its most basic, when we speak of communion, the answer to the question “What is it?” is this:
Holy Communion is a sign of God’s presence and God’s provision, of God’s grace and God’s love.
Just as the manna was for those first people of God.
May it be so.