The lectionary reading for the week, from Exodus 16:
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not… Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“… In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”
There is something in the Exodus story that makes us all nod and smile. Well, sort of half-smile. We smile because it is about human nature. Our smiles freeze just a bit because it is also about us. Here’s my take on what really happened…
We beat the Egyptians. Happy Dance. Happy Song. They all drowned in the sea. Woo hoo! All our problems are gone because the thing we wanted most to happen has happened.
Now, here we are—free from the burden of our past!
But…in the wilderness. Hmm.
Then the young ones start to whine a little. I’m hungry. I’m thirsty. How much longer to the Promised Land? Are we there yet? After a while the baby whining is joined by the adult complaining.
It starts with a few people. Hey, do you guys have some extra cans of chick peas? No? Are your flour sacks getting a little low? Olive oil? I’ll tell you, my stomach is growling. We should all go talk to Moses.
So, Moses, we were just wondering, because our kids were asking and we wanted to tell them something: Just how long do you think it’ll be before we get to this terrific place we’re going? You may not have noticed, but, all we can see now is wilderness, in every direction.
I’m not really sure, says Moses. That wasn’t part of God’s message. But I’m thinking a month. Maybe two. Six or eight months tops. Definitely not more than a year.
A YEAR?! Moses, what are you thinking, man? We were better off in Egypt. We were oppressed, sure, but we weren’t hungry. We could eat whatever we wanted whenever we wanted it. We were full all the time. You said we were going to the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, but here we are in the wilderness. They don’t call it wilderness for nothing. Where’s the food, Moses? Where’s the promise of your “Promised Land”? A little milk or honey would be nice right about now. We are just walking in circles when we expected a straight line to the new, better life. We’re going to starve, following you, following God…
Things used to be better, in the good old days of Egypt.
How quickly the old days—even the bad old days—become the good old days in our memory.
We forget the bad stuff and remember the good. There’s nothing wrong with that unless we just keep looking backward and refuse to imagine that anything good could happen in the future.
They just kept looking back.
Back at the sea. Back over the sea.
Even if it was better, easier in Egypt, you can’t go back. You might as well look forward.
A new life—change—comes at the cost of familiarity. We move ahead with the uncertain future, but with the certainty of God’s presence.
Sometimes moving forward is great. A new school, a new job, a marriage, a baby. Sometimes forward is horrendous. An illness, a death, the loss of something important, frightening times.
But no matter how much we want to go back, it just isn’t possible. The sea has closed up behind us and there’s no way back.
God did not abandon the Israelites to the desert. There was this stuff. The people saw it and said, “what is it?” And that became its name. What is it? Manna.
God provided it for them, and sent enough for everyone, but just enough for a day at a time.
One day at a time, God gave them what they needed. Not any less. Not any more. Just enough.
And so, one day at a time, with just what they needed, they began to make their way through the wilderness.
One day at a time, they got up and ate. They drank. They lived. They breathed. And they were able to keep going. Nothing exciting or glamorous about it. Just one day at a time.
Life comes at us one day at a time. And we face it. One day at a time. That’s about all we can do. And even that is sometimes too much.
Like the people of the Exodus story, we may feel as though we are walking in circles and never getting anywhere.
But God’s help also comes to us one day at a time.
What is it? It is people reaching out to us. It is God’s gift in the person who sees our difficulty and steps in to help in some small way. It is God’s gift of the moment of peace in the middle of a troublesome week. It is God’s gift of beauty, or joy, or memory, or purpose, or strength.
What is it? It is God’s gift, come to us in some unexpected form. Even though we’re walking in circles, we’re able to keep going. One day at a time.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011