How are leftovers viewed in your house? When I was growing up, I can remember my mom at times almost being apologetic about having leftovers for a dinner. Now my dad and I always thought this was silly. Since it tasted very good the first time around, we weren’t going to complain about eating it a second time.
I still like leftovers for the same reason today. However now I also appreciate them for a reason that I never could have grasped back then. When you are growing up, you just take it for granted that mom and dad make sure there is a meal. You don’t worry about whether there is going to be one. Instead the concern is how much you are going to like what is served – whether it is a real favorite or not.
Now that I am a parent I have come to understand that those meals don’t “just show up” on the table. Someone has to plan what you are going to have. Someone has to go grocery shopping. Someone has to prepare the meal. It’s a lot of work. Amy does the vast majority of it in our house, but given our schedule it also often falls on dad’s limited culinary skills to get a meal ready. There are times when things don’t go as planned, and Amy and I will look at each other and ask that dreaded question: “So what’s for dinner?” How nice it is to know that on a given night there really isn’t anything we have to do except warm up leftovers – that a good tasting meal is ready to go.
And along the way I have discovered something else about leftovers. There are dishes that actually taste better as a leftover. There are dishes like Amy’s Cincinnati chili, chicken tetrazzini, chicken chili, and potato casserole which taste even better the second day. The juices and flavor soak into everything when they sit overnight and it is a pleasure to look forward to eating them again.
In our Old Testament lesson today we hear a story about leftovers. However, in this case Yahweh commands that there aren’t to be any. And in this unique situation, leftovers turn out be worse than the first time around – a lot worse, as the manna kept overnight breeds worms and stinks. Israel is to trust Yahweh to provide manna for each day as he gives them the bread of heaven.
Our text takes place just after God had rescued Israel in the Exodus. He had brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground. Moses and the people had sung: “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.”
They had then gone three days into the wilderness and found no good water. We learn that because of this the people grumbled against Moses. So Yahweh had Moses throw a log in the water and it became good tasting and drinkable.
Now Israel had journeyed out into the wilderness away from Egypt. We learn in our text, “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”
It’s not exactly what we would expect after God had just dramatically spared them in the Passover and rescued them in the Exodus; after he had destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army in the miracle at the Red Sea. God does these mighty things for Israel, and then they don’t trust him to provide them with food.
Of course, you do the same thing. You see, God has done mighty things to rescue you from slavery as well. He did the mighty things that we celebrated at Christmas as the Son of God came into our world in the incarnation. And now, during Lent we are preparing to remember the dramatic things God has done to redeem you from slavery to sin, death and the devil. Jesus Christ suffered and died for you. God the Father made him who knew no sin to be sin in your place in order to give you forgiveness. And then on the third day he defeated death as he raised up Christ.
This is the rescue that God has worked for you. And yet your response is doubt and worry about whether God is going to care for you – whether he is going to provide for you. You worry about paying your bills - even though many of those have been produced by things that go far beyond daily bread. You worry about your future and the course it will take. Worry so easily consumes your life about so many different things. And yet worry is a failure to trust God.
In our text, Israel failed to trust God as they grumbled about how they were going to get food. And so the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?”
Yahweh said that he was going to rain down bread from heaven. And then he had Moses and Aaron announce something very interesting. He said that in the evening the people would know that he was the One who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and that in the morning they would see his glory. The events to which he refers are the quail that would begin to cover the camp in the evening and the manna that would be on the ground in the morning.
The proof - the evidence – that Yahweh gives the people that he is the One who had rescued them is not a call to remember what they themselves had experienced in Egypt and at the Red Sea. Instead it was the provision of meat and bread from heaven that he was going to provide. Yahweh then did reveal his glory in the cloud, but when he did so he said, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” Once again the meat and the bread was the focus – it was the meat and bread that revealed Yahweh was their God.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus Christ uses five loaves of bread and two fish to feed more than five thousand people. This prompts a discussion the next day in which Jesus says, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When the crowd asked, “Sir, give us this bread always,” Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Our Lord promises to give life – life that satisfies in the deepest sense. And then he goes on to say why: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers 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. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
As the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ has given his flesh for the life of the world – for your life. He gave himself as the Lamb of God on the cross who takes away the sin of all. Through faith in the crucified and risen One you have forgiveness. And through faith in Jesus Christ you have life – eternal life already now.
In our Old Testament lesson God had redeemed Israel – he had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. In the wilderness they worried about food. But the real issue present there was not a lack of food, but rather a lack of trust in God. The real issue was that they had forgotten who Yahweh was and what he had done for them. And so Yahweh gave them meat and manna. But as we have seen his explanation of what this meant was not about providing food. Instead he said, “At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD.” He said, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.”
God calls you back to these same truths, so that in turn you can trust him to care for you in his way. He calls you back to Jesus the bread of life for it is through Jesus that you have been brought out of the land of slavery to sin. It is in Jesus that you have seen the glory of God revealed. It is because of Jesus that you know God is the Lord your God.
What God does in our text this morning is a miracle, but in many ways it was not impressive – especially the manna. We learn that in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they didn’t know what it was. In fact Moses had to explain to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
The same thing is true today. Here in the morning we see bread and wine on the altar. When we ask, “What is it?”, Jesus says, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Because of this body and blood given and shed for you, you know that you have been freed from the slavery of sin. You experience the glory of the incarnate Lord in our midst. You know that the Jesus Christ is the Lord your God. Because of Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar you know what you have now, and what will be yours in the future. For Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus gives you this bread from heaven; this bread of life so that in faith you can trust God’s presence and care today. The One who has rescued you and given you eternal life; the One who comes to you in this miraculous fashion will not cease to care and provide for you. So receive the bread from heaven for this day, and entrust today and all of the tomorrows to him.