From daily Manna to eternal Bread of Life
There are so many different kinds of wonderful bread in the world, aren’t there? There are French Baguettes, and Italian Focaccia; there’s Indian Naan and Ethiopian Injera. Mexican tortillas, Jewish Challah, Southern cornbread, and grandmother’s biscuits. And of course, there’s always your basic white, wheat, rye, and pumpernickel.
Nowadays, some people try to avoid eating bread on a regular basis, especially if they are trying to follow a low-carb diet. Other folk have health issues with gluten, and cannot eat traditional bread. Nonetheless, bread remains a basic stuff of life that comes with a lot of variety. Having your “daily bread” means you won’t starve. And even the slang of using “Bread” for money, points to the central place bread has in the human sense of well being and security.
In the book, “Sleeping with Bread,” I read that during the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”[i]
The bread given to the children was like the manna in the desert. The fear of being without food in the desert made the Israelites anxious, so God provided for them by sending Manna, a flaky, bread like food that was found like dew on the ground each morning. It provided just enough for the day. The miracle of manna lasted the whole time the Israelites were sojourners in the desert.
Jesus, also fed people miraculously in the desert. After multiplying one boy’s lunch to feed five thousand, Jesus continues in his dialogue with those in the crowd. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
The crowd challenges Jesus. The Bread of Life??? Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s boy? Who does he think he is? The undertone of the challenge seems to say, “Moses gave our ancestors manna every day for 40 years, does Jesus think that miraculously providing this one meal makes him greater than Moses? Who does he think he is?”
Jesus tries to show them that it is more than about that one meal. “I am the bread of life” Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”
Manna from heaven, and Jesus, Bread of Life.
Both are from God.
One feeds for a day.
One feeds for eternity.
I believe that the world still experiences manna moments. Manna moments are God’s gifts to us. They are times when God provides miraculously. They are encounters with others that feed us physically, emotionally and spiritually. They are the satisfaction and blessing of having just enough of what we need for the day ahead.
More than just receiving manna, I also believe that God uses his followers to share manna moments with others. I believe we share manna moments when we try to live a life shaped by God’s law of love and service.
Our collect today points to the Christian desire to do right… to collect and eat and share manna each day:
“Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, … Amen.”
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians points to those “right things” that we should expect from one another as Christians: We are to be honest with each other – truthful and encouraging, not slanderous. We are to deal with our anger before it leads us to sin, either by harnessing it to rectify injustice, or letting it go in forgiveness. We are to work hard, not only to provide for ourselves, but to have enough to give to those who cannot provide for themselves. We are called to be kind and tenderhearted, and to live in love.
There have been so many good things that Christians have done around the world. Everything from building hospitals to helping countries divided reconcile through truth telling and forgiveness.
In the same way, you and I and the larger church both enjoy manna and can be the source of bringing manna to others. When you take what God has miraculously given you, and you share it with someone else, you are giving them manna. When you take your time to feed someone who is hungry, you are giving them manna. When you take your gifts in teaching to educate a child, you are giving them manna. When you use your influence and your networks to bring about positive change in the community, you are distributing manna. When you offer to pray with a friend who is in need of healing, you are sharing manna.
Manna moments are experienced as we encourage a friend, or feed the hungry, or work for positive change against injustice. Manna moments come as we live as a faithful examples of kindness and love.
These manna moments are good. They are from God. They satisfy…. to a point. But they are not the Bread of Life.
Manna moments can transform some people for some period of time. But manna moments, when they lead to eating the Bread of Life, transform for eternity. Indeed, what gives many Christ followers the ability to provide manna to others is that they themselves feed constantly on the Bread of Life.
I think of the great work that Bishop Desmond Tutu did in South Africa, or the work of Bill Wilson and Fr. Sam Shoemaker, who founded Alcoholics Anonymous. I think of the many ways you here at St. Michael’s share God’s love with each other and extend God’s peace and justice to the world.
Occasionally I get depressed when I look at the world… There is always more news of crime, of more hunger, of war, of racism, of cycles of poverty, drugs, and evidence of hatred. On and on. And as many good programs governments try to institute, often influenced by Godly people…. and as many good things well meaning Christians do locally and internationally, it ends up being manna. A gift from God for today, but not lasting for eternity.
Don’t get me wrong. Manna is miraculous stuff. It comes as a gift from heaven. It would not have fed the Israelites for forty years if some people had not gone out and gathered it up, and distributed it to those who had need.
Good works are manna in the desert. But Jesus is the bread of life.
Moving from Manna in the desert to Jesus as Bread of Life is the essence of sacrament of evangelism.
If you remember your catechism, or for those of you who are preparing for confirmation will learn, a Sacrament is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is something expressed in tangible symbols the reflect the intangible work of God in our lives. The outward sign of water in baptism, for example, expresses the inward grace of God in washing us from sin and giving us new birth in Christ. In communion, the Bread and the Wine are the outward signs on Gods inner and spiritual grace of being nourished by Christ himself with his body and blood.
Normally, we don’t think of evangelism as a sacrament, but I think much of life is sacramental.
The Manna, the good word or good work, is the outward and visible sign of the Good News. The inward and spiritual grace of eternal life comes from feasting on the Bread of Life, of having experienced a life transformed by your relationship with Jesus.
D.T. Niles, a Sri Lankan Methodist minister offered a wonderful definition of evangelism. He claimed that “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where he just found bread.”
A friend of mine noted that unfortunately, that’s not how he’s usually quoted. What we often hear is “Evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread.” Can you feel the difference between the two?
The first comes from a person who has just feasted, the other comes from a someone who has merely heard the rumor of a breadline. “Where he just found bread.” Verses “where to find bread.” It’s the reason why evangelism is so seemingly difficult for so many followers of Jesus.
They think they are supposed to tell someone about something they have not recently experienced themselves. The latter often tends to be dry while the former is an act of “heart to heart” generosity.
Manna that is not linked to the Bread of Life will soon become stale. It will not satisfy for long.
But Manna that points to Jesus, the Bread of Life, and opens the possibility for someone not to be satisfied for a day, but for eternity.
I am afraid that too many people who call themselves Christians have become satisfied with receiving and offering manna alone.
They recognize the good gifts from God. They try to share those good gifts with others, but the outward and visible sign is only half of the sacrament.
Jesus calls us to eat his flesh, to have him dwell in us and to become part of us. It began with our baptism and continues as we daily invite Jesus into our lives and we seek to live in his life. Jesus wants our life nourished with his life. As we come to the table today, to receive the outward signs of bread and wine, I pray that each of us will become more filled, and more satisfied with the relationship with Jesus the Bread of Life, and that all of our Manna moments spring from, and point to the Bread of Life. Amen.
[i] I have heard this story several places, and found it written in “Sleeping with Bread: Holding what gives you life” by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. Paulist Press, 1995, p. 1.