Exodus 16:2-4 New International Version
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way, I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.
The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
I once flew over the Sinai Desert and looking down upon it, conjured up in my mind a picture of miles of sandy desert with rolling sand dunes here and there. However, I came to learn that the reality is very different. There are miles and miles of red-brown rock, rising into hills and mountains with unexpected plateaux and occasional caves.
The Sinai can be very cold, bleak, inhospitable, and terrifying. Yet in another way, it is beautiful and magnetic. It drew the desert fathers there too fast and pray. It houses St Katharine’s monastery with its wonderful library and its green oasis garden. It attracts coach loads of tourists, driving up the roads made during the Israeli occupation of Egypt after the Nine-Day War. It is also the scene of the wonderful story which forms the basis of the Jewish faith and creed and the rock-like foundation of the Christian salvation history.
John Rogerson, the Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield, states in his book ‘The Old Testament World’ that the history of Israel begins with Israel.
That is, it begins with an association of tribes that were occupying the Samaria and Bethel Hills and possibly part of Lower Galilee around 1230 BC. The history of Israel can be reconstructed by scholars based on a variety of evidence.
The narratives about Israel’s history in the Old Testament belong to an ancient category of writing. Although they have an interest in Israel’s past, their main purpose is religious. They are concerned to tell the story of Israel as the people of God and so they show how God brought these people into being and blessed, punished, exiled, and restored them.
So, they did not just describe Israel’s actual history. They describe its full sacred and saving meaning. They choose a story about the tribes of Israel after leaving Egypt and wandering around for some years before they settled.
It is this story of escape, wandering, failures rescued, and forgiveness, set in the bleak Sinai Peninsula, which becomes the core of the salvation history of both Jews and Christians.
It gives us a basic theme of pilgrimage and a pattern of failure, forgiveness and a new start because of the overwhelming love and forgiveness of a righteous but amazingly loving God.
EXODUS THE BOOK OF FREEDOM
In the book of Exodus, we learn how the people are freed from Egypt but then go wandering through the terrible wilderness moaning and groaning as they went.
Moses pointed out to them that Your complaining is not against me but against the Lord, but he still intercedes to God for them.
This is a story of God feeding his people in the wilderness and is picked up by the writer of the fourth Gospel in the reading we had from that book. Ephesians 4.11-16.
The other three Gospels set the story of the institution of Holy Communion within their account of the last supper. This meal may or may not have been a Passover meal, but it was certainly eaten at Passover time and its significance is undergirded by the story of the escape from Egypt when the angel of death passed over the houses on which the blood was smeared, and the Hebrews were allowed to leave by the grief-stricken Pharaoh whose son had died.
As death passed over the Hebrews, so the followers of Jesus would escape from punishment and the fear of death because of his own death by which he conquered death.
THE BREAD OF LIFE
Its deep meaning could only be understood in the light of the new covenant of his blood and his followers must share in the bread and wine, the body and blood, to gain strength and courage for their own pilgrimage through life.
In his sequence of events, Jesus died on the cross as the Passover lamb was being slain and the emphasis is on love, service, sacrifice, death, and salvation. The gospel of John’s reading gives us the teaching about Jesus being the bread of our lives.
Jesus had fed the five thousand and then sent his small band of disciples in a boat across the lake while he prayed.
Later he terrified them by walking on the water towards them. Once they had crossed the lake they were again met by crowds, whom Jesus fed once more with loaves.
Jesus called upon his followers to work for the food that lasted by believing that God sent him. They asked for a sign as their ancestors had received manna in the wilderness. Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. He promised that Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
This saying I am the bread of life is one of John’s presentations of the I am sayings of Jesus. Other examples are I am the good shepherd, I am the true vine, etc.
These sayings may not be original, but they are the means by which the Gospel writer here draws out the deep meaning and significance for Christians of what Jesus did and spoke. In his own way, he is teaching the followers of Jesus that the source and sustenance for their whole life pilgrimage lie- in Jesus.
Christians can live their whole lives in the presence of God by believing in Jesus Christ, following his teaching, praying, reading, meditating on his words, and feeding on his body and blood in Holy Communion.
This teaching of John was not just for Christians two thousand years ago. It is for everybody now- for you and for me.
Our lives here are nothing less than a pilgrimage of growing into God’s image, modelling ourselves on Jesus in whom the fullness of God’s image dwells. We are to grow up into Christ.
Just as the Israelites wandered through the Sinai wilderness while they learnt their lessons as a community, we are called upon to do this as members of a community – the Christian community into which all are called.
DO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY
The letters to the Ephesians are addressed to the community of Christians in Ephesus- the body of Christ in that place. It is as members of that community, sharing their gifts, learning from each other, speaking the truth to one another, assessing, commenting, and supporting each other to live out their lives and grow into the body of Christ. To do the work of the ministry, to Speak the truth in love, we must grow up in every way unto him.
This is your call and mine. As members of the body of Christ where you live and beyond. Wherever we are set, we have this wonderful call to work together and grow to be more like Christ.
But of course, we do this not for ourselves but for God and God’s world.
For the salvation of souls, we are to be a living example and be open and ready to welcome everybody and draw them into the community of God’s love.
What a calling!
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