Manna for today

Dr Sarah Mortimer


Choral Evensong

Exodus 16:4-15; Revelation 2:12-17

Our first reading from Exodus contains one of the hardest instructions the people ever receive from God.  They are told to ‘go out and gather a certain rate’ or, as more modern translations put it, to ‘go out and gather enough’.  That might seem like a straightforward instruction, but remember the people are out in the wilderness, where they have been wandering since their great escape from slavery in Egypt.  Food is growing scarce and they are hungry, tired - and angry with God.  But suddenly God rains upon them bread from heaven, the manna which is light wafers laced with honey, the answer to all their prayers.   The generosity and power of God is displayed before their eyes, they can literally taste it with their mouths.  And yet they are told to hold back, to gather only what they need for the day, not to try to gather save the manna and store it up for later.   All they need is enough in the present, trusting that tomorrow will bring more.

We know from Exodus, from the unfolding of the story, just how hard the people will find this.  Their instinct is so often to gather a little extra, to be on the safe side, to make sure they will have something for the next few days.  And they struggle too, with the command to rest on the seventh day, anxiously believing that if they can work harder, gather more, then perhaps they will have the safety and security they so desire.  But slowly they will learn that God’s gifts are not like that.  The bread from heaven is not something that we can gather up and hoard, hoping to bring ourselves a kind of safety and security.   We must trust that God will provide, in God’s own time.

This teaching in Exodus is challenging, it crosses our habits of prudence and good sense.  Surely it would be wrong to let the manna go to waste, or risk a shortage in the next few days?  Elsewhere, after all, we hear of God encouraging good stewardship and planning, like when Joseph stores up grain in years of plenty to feed the people when the harvest fails.  But the point is not so much to deny the value of prudence, as to challenge our desires for mastery and control, our anxious efforts to put ourselves in charge over the world around us.   Instead, we are invited to see around us the bounty of creation, to remember that all we have and all we are are gifts from God.  That awareness will release us from the stress of accumulation, and allow us instead to enjoy and to share the endless love of God.  

In the manna the people of Israel could glimpse something of the generosity and care of God, nourishing and sustaining them throughout their journey.  But the heavenly food is not only for them, for we too are offered the bread of life, the grace and peace which comes to us through Jesus Christ.  As the anthem we have just heard reminds us, in that bread we are offered life eternal, the life made possible by God’s grace.  For it is in the life and death and resurrection of Christ, and in the sending of the Holy Spirit, that we see most truly that God’s gift of love is inexhaustible, that not even death and violence can overcome it.  In that confidence we can learn to enjoy God’s gifts without fear and anxiety, knowing that those gifts are enough for everyone, for all God’s children.  For the bread of life is given for the whole of God’s people, that we may live and grow together as we journey through this world.  And through it we may be held in community with each other and with all creation by God’s abundance and God’s love.