The Day the Manna Ceased

Joshua 5:9-12

9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” So the place was called Gilgal, as it is today.

10 The Israelites camped in Gilgal. They celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the plains of Jericho. 11 On the very next day after Passover, they ate food produced in the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped on that next day, when they ate food produced in the land. There was no longer any manna for the Israelites. So that year they ate the crops of the land of Canaan. (CEB)

The Day the Manna Ceased

Imagine the significance of this day in the life of the Israelites. This is the generation of Israelites born in the desert. Their parents were the ones God rescued from slavery in Egypt. The only life they knew was a sojourn in the wilderness where they were fed by God’s own hand with manna and quail, where God fed them like infants, where God alone provided everything they had and everything they needed.

Their parents had experienced the first Passover when the destroyer came to strike down the first-born of Egypt (Exodus 12:23). God fed them in the wilderness. Now, the children of Egyptian slaves observe the second Passover in the evening, probably a few weeks after crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land and setting up camp at Gilgal. This Passover meal marked an end and a new beginning. God had rolled away the disgrace of their enslavement in Egypt. God set their feet on a new path from which they would never turn back.

This day, the next day after the Passover, is the day of their first steps when they transitioned from infants resting in the protective arms of their mother to toddlers taking their first steps away from that protective embrace, walking wide-eyed into a world bigger and fuller than they could have imagined. Imagine their wonder and their fear, their delight and trepidation when they took their first bites of new food: the produce of the land. They had never eaten anything like it before. Manna and quail were all they had ever tasted.

But this day, for the first time in their lives, no manna came. Imagine the people going out to gather it in the morning, but finding nothing. God weened them like a mother stuffing the first cheerio into a child’s mouth. This day they would eat the produce of the land. Imagine raising a grape to your lips for the first time, wondering in doubt and uncertainty if the strange little egg-shaped fruit will taste good or horrible. Then, you bite into it, feeling the tough consistency of the skin and tasting the juicy sweetness of the flesh inside.

Imagine your first bite of warm bread made from grain.

I think their minds would have been blown at the goodness they were tasting. Their natural doubts would have given way, quickly, to amazement at God’s providence. And yet, their lives would never be the same. From now on, everything would be different. They would have to work for their food. God would provide for them, but in a new way: a way that required their cooperation with God. This new life would require obedience to the covenant God made with them. The Law told them everything from how to properly care for the land, to how they should conduct business, to how they should worship, to what and how they should eat. And in this moment, on this day, they are forced to experience a very sudden change in their diet.

Food is incredibly significant stuff. Passover was a meal. With the exception of an entirely burnt offering, the sacrifices in the Tabernacle and Temple were meals. The people and the priests ate portions of the sacrifice. The sacrifices were meals with God. And that meant something significant!

The reason certain religious leaders got in such a tizzy over Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners is because eating with someone was a sign of connection and friendship with them. Eating with someone meant acceptance of that person. The Pharisees and religious leaders would never break bread with a tax collector or a prostitute. But Jesus did both. Jesus even broke bread with Pharisees.

Food is significant. We have certain expectations around events in our lives: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if your family decided they were going to have hamburgers for Thanksgiving instead of turkey, and stuffing, and cranberry sauce, and candied yams, and green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes, and at least two kinds of gravy, and six different kinds of pie, and hot yeast rolls dripping with butter. Instead, your mom says, Do you want cheese with that burger? Oh no! You would protest because you don’t eat hamburgers on Turkey Day.

It’s the same with birthdays. I always get Chicken Kiev on my birthday. Always. That is my meal: two chicken breasts pinned together with toothpicks around a slab of butter, rolled in a milk-egg mixture, then rolled in crushed saltine crackers, and fried to perfection. When you slice into it, melted butter just gushes out. On July 27th, there is no substitute for Chicken Kiev at dinner time. None. People have tried, but it doesn’t work for me.

Joy and I were talking about this the other day, and she still remembers when her mom told her, Hey, I made tuna-noodle casserole for your birthday supper! And Joy’s response was, Oh. Tuna-noodle casserole. For my birthday. Thanks. She had an expectation for that birthday meal, and it was not tuna-noodle casserole.

When the Israelites celebrated the second Passover, the food and the ritual of eating it reminded them of how God had provided for them in the past. It was more than just food to fuel their bodies. It pointed them to the one who provides bread and sustenance, the one who gave them certain promises, the one who gave them life and freedom, the one who made covenant with them to be their sovereign, their provider, and their God. It reminded them of what God had accomplished for them in the past, and gave them confidence in God’s continued presence and care in the future.

Have you ever really paid attention to the words of the Great Thanksgiving in our Communion liturgy? It’s also called the Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word meaning Thanksgiving. The Great Thanksgiving prayer begins with thanks and praise. We give thanks to God for all of creation. We sing a hymn of praise to the Living God called the Sanctus.

We thank God for the work of redemption in the past, and the things we remember in the prayer change with the seasons of the Christian Year. During Lent, we focus on the significance of forty days, and recall the flood, the procession of the Israelites to Mount Sinai, Elijah’s fast, Christ’s fast in the wilderness, the forty days following his resurrection, and the forty days we use to prepare ourselves for the glory of Easter.

We remember and give thanks for Christ’s saving work, his command that we share this meal together, his death on the cross, and his resurrection to life. We pray for the Holy Spirit to come and be poured out on the elements of bread and juice to make them be for us the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ so that we can be the body of Christ for the world. We pray for our sanctification, that we might share in Christ’s victory and feast at the great banquet in God’s kingdom.

Eating together means something. When we eat the bread and taste the juice of the Eucharist, we are sharing a meal with God. We receive God into us. We are filled with God’s grace, power, and presence. We’re also reminded that we are a community together. We are called to love one another. And love means we bear with each other even when we can only see a person’s faults.

The irony of the Pharisees complaining that Jesus ate with sinners, is that he ate with them, too. And they were sinners. They had faults. They were not perfect. But they sure thought of themselves as better and more righteous than others.

The celebration of this Passover as the people stepped into the Promised Land became an opportunity to encounter God in a new and fresh way. The thing is, when we grow up, when we step out of Mom and Dad’s close embrace as the Israelites stepped into that new land full of rich food, other things can grab our attention. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but it becomes a problem when we no longer remember who it is that provides for us. Stepping out like this, growing up and seeing beyond the only horizons we’ve ever known, is a blessing but it can also lead to temptation.

It risks the possibility of forgetting. When the land flows with milk and honey, we can begin to rely more on the land than the one who gave it. We can begin to rely more on the produce than the one who provides. The wealth we gain can tempt us to celebrate ourselves and our possessions more than the God who richly lavishes upon us everything that we have. We can begin to seek first treasures on earth instead of seeking first the kingdom, work, and reign of God.

It didn’t take long for this generation of Israelites to forget. And the next generation… and the next. It doesn’t take us long either.

Lent calls us to remember the story. Our journey through these forty days is meant as an opportunity for us to remember what God has done for us, and what God promises for us. Lent offers us a chance to encounter God in new ways and draw near again. It’s a chance for us to savor this new food, to remember and to be renewed. Because God is still leading us out of disgraceful wandering. We are not as we should be.

Yet, the invitation from God is that we remember and return.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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