5:9 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.
5:10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
5:11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.
5:12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
When the Manna Stops
Without much fanfare the Israelites, after a forty year sojourn as Arabs in the desert, begin a settled life in the land of Canaan. That is, when they awake that first morning in the land of milk and honey there no longer is any manna to harvest.
Manna? you ask. It is the Lordís miraculous provision for feeding the wandering tribe in the wilderness where, obviously, they donít plant and donít reap. Apparently, manna is white bread; more Pepperidge, I trust, than Wonder. It is harvested every day except Saturday, when, as we all know, God, the baker, is resting. But, except for Friday, there is no use in collecting more than can be eaten in a day. The uneaten excess fills with maggots. Some have speculated that the taste of manna varies according to the eaterís age: like honey to children; bread, to teenagers; and oil, to adults.
The larger meaning of manna is living day to day directly from the hand of God. Such provision reads like the perfect illustration of that petition in the Lordís Prayer: give us today the bread we need.
Now the manna stops.
Been there, experienced that. May 1956, New York City, Brooklyn to be exact, though that borough never quite thought of itself as the City. My time to shelve the books and get down to day to day pastoring. The handouts from Mom and Dad would continue. But now the bills at Rudy Arpís and H & P Meat Market would be ours and ours alone to pay. My oh, my, the wait between paychecks was an eternity. Barbara and I were on our own. The manna which nurtured us during nineteen years of education was no longer there to be collected. Time to grow up, sow our own fields, reap our own crops, if not by the sweat of our brows, then by the ink of our pens and the leather of our shoes walking the streets of the parish, visiting the sick, and shepherding the children.
You know: that inexorable transition of this mortal life. Growing up. Taking responsibility for oneís own care and feeding. No more manna from Mom and Dad. Some of us arrive there sooner and some later, and a few, never. And some, by virtue of age and a bad economy, return there, only it isnít Mom and Dad providing the manna, but Junior and Sis.
Israelís experience after a forty year adolescence in Sinai can be read as a parable of everyoneís experience. An experience we and Israel embrace with fond memories and wistful longings. About how good it was to be young and innocent and carefree, back there in the desert where faith was as sure as the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Yeah, yeah, give me that old time religion.
Which, of course, is to forget the hardship, the hunger, and the Golden Calf. Or the endless sermons, the segregated churches, and the silence of the womanís place, back there when the world was young and we were too.
As Thomas Wolfe (the original) has etched into our discourse one to another, ďYou canít go home again.Ē No more manna. Just as well.
Because there is something better. At the least, a more profound understanding of heavenís provision for us; and in the long run, the life run, more satisfying to the soul. Namely, with a little help from our friends, and the blessing of heaven, we are summoned to produce our own manna. God intends for us to shift from our reliance on divine intervention to human innovation and cooperation.
And our world, in contrast to our misplaced nostalgia for a lost Eden, manifests that shift in a myriad of ways. I think of my kneesÖ boy, do I think of my knees! What wheelchair would I now be in were it not for the medical artistry of Dr. Schutzer? Prayer may change a lot of things but it didnít do much to heal my arthritic joints, except through the agency of my good doctor.
I think of those photos of emaciated children so often in the newspapers in the second half of the 20th century. We winced at their sight and admitted our guilt with the table graces that remembered their hunger. But modern agriculture has achieved a cornucopia of food production and our guilt now is not because there is not enough to go around, only that we havenít found the will for the way to share the bounty.
And I think of you in this moment, reading this Lenten message (God bless you who got this far, surely a minority of the faithful readers of CC!). Mostly we are barraged with warnings about the abuse of the Internet; and, yes, it can be a dangerous place. But so is Times SquareÖ the kitchen too, and the hallways of schools. I believe that the word, upper (W) and lower (w) case, is life. Communication isnít everything; it is the only thingÖ that finally and forever provides satisfaction and fulfillment. (Which, need I tell you?, is what visionaries like Paul have described as heaven, fully knowing and being fully known by God.) The computer, which can be fairly understood as the most recent extra-physical evolutionary step of our humanity toward enhanced communication (yes, ripe with possibilities for evil, worms in the manna, but also much good!), enables, for instance, a nonagenarian to confide personal thoughts with me and I with her at her convenience and mine over the distance of a hundred miles instantaneously. And, if you're straining to find a more mundane religious plus, I'll recommend the ease the Internet provides in finding and ascertaining the meaning of snippets of the Bible passed in conversation or cited on TV, a resource I have employed for this message.
All of which is a far, far distance from manna in the wilderness; but, in the economy of Godís salvation, itís where we are in this moment of time, when with each other, under the guise of eternity, we produce manna of our own. That worms of corruption still stinketh the product, that thorns still infest the ground, that good people continue to do stupid and evil things, that our best intentions are still fatally flawed with self-serving: we shall not forget, not with the cross before us and behind us. Manna, from heaven or from earth, is not our salvation but our sustenance on this journey through time.
We press on, beyond Eden and Sinai, with the grace of Jesus Christ. The manna never stopped; it has, by God and us, been transformed.