Some people really enjoy cooking. It’s basically a hobby for them. They collect cook books and like to try out new recipes. They are willing to invest time in making dishes that require extensive preparation.
There are probably many more people who like to cook, but face the limitations of family life. Many evenings are a rush to get home from work and get something on the table to eat before family members have to head out for sports practices or games, church events, or other commitments. There are days when culinary success is defined by simply having something for people in the house to eat – when the ingredients present in the fridge and pantry combine with an idea for a dinner in way that allows food to be on the table in a timely manner.
No matter what the circumstances of food preparation are, I am going to give you some sound advice this morning about one thing you should never say when another person has prepared a meal. Don’t esay: “What is it?” I promise you, this will not be well received. “What is it?” does not express, “This looks great and I can’t wait to eat it!” “What is it?” does not say, “Thank you for your effort of making this delicious meal!” Do yourself a favor, and just don’t go there.
In the Old Testament lesson for today, “What is it?” is the response Israel gives the first time they see manna on the ground. In fact the name “manna” is derived from the Hebrew for this question: man hu The Israelites didn’t know what it was. They were puzzled. Their reaction was certainly not one of enthusiasm or thanksgiving. Clearly, it is not what they expected or would have chosen. Yet the manna was the bread of heaven provided by God to give them life. And in the manna we learn about Jesus Christ and what he means for us.
Our text takes place about a month and a half after Israel had left Egypt in the exodus. All the food the people had brought with them was now exhausted. The large number of people in the group meant that the land wasn’t able to support them, even if it had been good for hunting and foraging.
There was no denying that the situation really was serious. But Israel’s reaction to it was not one of faith. This is the people, after all, that Yahweh had just rescued from Egypt. In the Passover he had spared Israel while forcing Pharaoh to let Israel go. At the Red Sea he had brought them through the water on dry ground, and then had destroyed the pursuing Egyptian army.
Yet rather than remembering these things and calling upon Yahweh in faith, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and 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.”
The Israelites ignored what God had done for them. In fact, they ignored God altogether as they focused blame upon Moses and Aaron. Seemingly, they had forgotten about the harsh conditions of their slavery in Egypt. Instead they remembered it as a time when they were well fed and better off.
Instructed by Yahweh, Moses and Aaron responded to the people: “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?” They reminded Israel that their grumbling wasn’t really about Moses and Aaron. Instead, they were grumbling against Yahweh himself.
The grumbling of God’s people has not stopped. We do it too. We grumble about the circumstances in which the Church now lives – a culture that has turned against the idea of truth itself. We grumble about the way God is providing for us: Why don’t I have enough money to go on a fun spring break vacation in Florida like those people I see on Facebook and Instagram? We grumble about the circumstances of our life: Why do I have these health problems that cause discomfort, and require medication and doctor appointments?
Moses and Aaron told the people, “the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him--what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.” Our grumbling too is against the Lord. It is a failure to trust and believe in him, as instead we criticize the way he is directing our lives.
In response to the people Moses and Aaron 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.” They said that God was going to act. He would do something in the evening that would tell them that it was Yahweh who had brought them out of slavery. He would do something in the morning that would reveal his glory.
As soon as Aaron spoke to the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness and saw the glory of the LORD as it appeared in the cloud. Yahweh declared to Moses: “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.’”
That evening Yahweh delivered. Quail landed and covered the camp so that people did receive meat. Then in the morning dew lay around the camp. When the dew evaporated, there was left on the surface of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. Israel’s response was to say, “What is it?” They did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” It was the bread that Scripture goes on to describe as the “bread from heaven.”
God said that in the morning they would “see the glory of the LORD.” He revealed his glory by giving them bread to sustain life. Yet when they saw it they weren’t impressed. In fact, they weren’t even sure what it was.
God’s gift of manna was a type. It was something in the Old Testament that pointed forward to what God would do in Jesus Christ, for it is in Jesus the Word become flesh that we see the glory of God. In the Gospel lesson this morning we hear about how Jesus fed more than five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. The next day that the crowd sought out Jesus, and when he called them to believe in him they countered: “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When the people asked to receive this bread, Jesus answered, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
Jesus Christ is bread from heaven. He is the bread of life – the bread that gives life. In our Old Testament text God says that he will give them bread and in doing so he will reveal his glory. However, this bread only sustained physical life. The people who ate it eventually died.
God revealed his glory in the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, and he did so in way that gives eternal life. Jesus said, “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.”
During Lent we are preparing to again remember how Jesus gave his flesh in the suffering of the cross. He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. As true God and true man he bore in his flesh the sin of the world – he bore your sin. His flesh was nailed to the cross. It was pierced with a spear as Jesus died to give you forgiveness. And then on the third day he rose from the dead to give you life.
When the Israelites first saw the manna, they were puzzled. Their reaction was certainly not one of enthusiasm or thanksgiving. Clearly, it is not what they expected or would have chosen. In the same way the bloodied Jesus dying in the helplessness of the cross seems puzzling. It is not what we would have expected or chosen. But by raising Jesus from the dead, God the Father has revealed that it is through Jesus he has given us forgiveness and life.
In order to sustain us in that life, Christ continues to reveal his glory through bread. When Jesus said that bread he would give for the life of the world was is flesh, the Jews disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
On the night when he was betrayed to give his flesh for life of the world, Jesus used bread and wine as he instituted the Sacrament of the Altar. He gave it to his disciples and told them that he was giving them his body and his blood. We recognize that as the risen Lord he continues to do this for us. In the bread and wine of the Sacrament, Jesus continues to reveal his glory for it is not merely bread and wine. Instead, because of the Word of Christ it is his true body and blood given and shed for you. Here we eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Because of this we have eternal life. We have life now – life as God’s children that will have no end – life that not even death can stop. And we also know that Jesus Christ will raise up our body on the last day. We may die before Jesus Christ returns. Our body may be buried in the ground. I may be the one who buries you. But because this morning you receive the body and blood of the risen Lord, you know that your body will be raised too. You will share in the resurrection of the body that has already begun in Jesus Christ.