+++ The Blessing of the Civil Marriage of William Alan Weightman
and James Edward Mackay +++
August 5, 2018
Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78.23-29; John 6.24-35
+ Over these last several weeks, in our scripture readings at Mass, we have had a common theme.
The Bread of Life.
God providing food.
But our reading today from Exodus is one of those readings that has always perplexed me. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the Israelites, in their hunger, complaining and grumbling. In some translations, we find the word “murmuring.” Over and over again in the Exodus story they seem to complain and grumble and murmur.
To be fair, complaining and grumbling would be expected from people who are hungry. We are not always nice people when we are hungry. I am definitely not a nice person when I’m hungry!
But in their hunger, even after they have complained and murmured, God provides for them. God provides them this mysterious manna—this strange bread from heaven.
It’s the manna itself that has always confused me. In my mind, I still don’t have a very clear image of what it could possible have been. In fact, nobody’s real clear what this mysterious manna actually was. It’s often described as flakes, or a dew-like substance. (It does not sound very appetizing)
But one thing we do know: it was miraculous.
Now, in our Gospel, we find the same story of the Israelites and their hunger, but it has been turned around entirely. These people come to Jesus in their hunger, but they are given something greater than food to feed them. As our Liturgy of the Word for today begins with hunger and all the complaining and murmuring and grumbling and craving that goes along with it, it ends with fulfillment.
We find that the hungers now are the hungers and the cravings of our souls, of our hearts.
Now, this kind of spiritual hunger is just as real and just as all-encompassing as physical hunger. It, like physical hunger, can gnaw at us. We too crave after spiritual fulfillment. We mumble and complain and murmur when we are spiritually unfulfilled. We too feel that gaping emptiness within us when we hunger from a place that no physical food or drink can quench.
In a sense, we too are like the Israelites, wandering about in our own wilderness—our own spiritual wilderness. Most of us know what is like to be out there—in that spiritual wasteland—grumbling and complaining, hungry, shaking our fists at the skies and at God. We, like them, cry and complain and lament. We feel sorry for ourselves and for the predicaments we’re in. And we, like them, say to ourselves and to God, “If only I hadn’t followed God out here—if only I had stayed put or followed the easier route, I wouldn’t be here.”
We’ve all been in that place. We’ve all been in that desert, to that place we thought God had led us.
I know that in my case, I went so self-assuredly. I went certain that this was what God wanted for me. I was sure I had read all the signs. I had listened to that subtle voice of the Spirit within me. I had gauged my calling from God through the discernment of others. And then, suddenly, there I was. What began as a concentrated stepping forward, had become an aimless wandering. And, in that moment, I found myself questioning everything—I questioned myself, I questioned the others who discerned my journey, I questioned the Spirit who I was so certain spoke within me.
And, in that emptiness, in that frustration, I questioned God. I complained. And I lamented.
Lamenting is a word that seems kind of outdated for most of us. We think of lamenting being some overly dramatic complaining. Which is exactly what it is. It was what we do when we feel things like desolation. Like hunger, few of us, again I hope, have felt utter desolation. But when we do, we know, there is no real reason to despair.
As followers of Jesus, we will find our strength and consolation in the midst of that spiritual wilderness. We know that manna will come to us in that spiritual desert. God always provides. We must always remind ourselves of that simple fact. No matter how terrible the desert experience may be, God will provide. In whatever terrible situation we may find ourselves in—even ones we have brought upon ourselves, God will rain manna down upon us. God will shower us with grace and goodness.
For us, manna has come many times in our lives. And I am not talking about flaky bread falling from the sky. I am talking about sustenance. Real sustenance. I am talking about God providing for us and taking care of us just when we need to be taken care of. I am talking about grace—real grace—falling from the sky.
Now, at almost every wedding, I always talk about the love two people who are getting married have for each is an example of grace. Grace, as I definite it, is a gift we receive from God that we never asked for nor fully anticipated. And for most people who get married, that is what love is like. God sends a particular person at just the right time and in just the right place.
That is certainly what happened for James and William. And now, look! Their love is a perfect example of manna—of the grace of God falling into their lives. And I hope all married people here this morning can say the same thing about their own relationship.
This is how God works in our lives. Yes, we might complain. Yes, we might shake our fists at God, and say, “this is unfair!” We might lament and complain about being hungry in the wilderness of our lives. But God, we find, is not distant. God is right here. Right here, with us.
After eating our fill of manna in our lives, we no longer can accuse God of being distant. Because, God has come to us.
And the sign that God is with us? God has feed us. Look at all the ways in our lives in which God has truly fed us! Again and again.
In those moments when God has provided for us, when God has drawn close and given us all we needed (and didn’t even know we even needed in in the first place) that is when we know we have truly eaten the Bread of angels. It is then that we have had the grain of heaven.
In our hunger, God always feeds us.
In our grumbling and complaining, God quiets us.
After all, when we are eating and drinking, we can’t complain and grumble. And unlike the food we eat day by day, the food God provides us with will not perish.
God sends us the bread of life.
“I am the bread of life,” we heard Jesus say in our Gospel reading. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In the echo of that statement, we are silenced. Our grumbling spiritual stomachs are silenced. Our spiritual loneliness is vanquished. Our cravings are fulfilled.
In the wake of those powerful words, we find our emptiness fulfilled. We find the strength to make our way out of the wilderness to the promised land. And, we who eat of this bread, of this manna from heaven, we in turn become the bread of life to others.
“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
So, let us be thankful for the manna we have received—in whatever form that manna has come to us in our lives. Let the One who feeds us take from us our gnawing hunger and our craving thirst, once and for al. And when God does, we will be given what we have been truly craving all along.