Sir, give us this bread always.
That just gets to me. It’s not, Sir, give us this bread. It’s Sir, give us this bread, always. We humans. We are always so afraid of losing something, aren’t we? I suppose we come by it honestly – things do get lost, in our lifetimes. We lose things we love and places we love and people we love. It’s true. And so when we come across something we love, something that fills our bodies, minds, and spirits, something that makes our lives richer and more fulfilling, something that calms our anxieties and helps us to feel safe and loved, we want to hang on to it. Sir, give us this bread always.
The Exodus story we read just before the Gospel is actually my favorite story in the entire Bible. The story of the Manna and the Quail. I’ve heard it told in different ways, but my favorites are where there is midrash attached to the story. Midrash is where the rabbis add in extra details, filling in some of the background. So according to the rabbis, the story of the Manna and Quail goes like this:
The Israelites are being led by Moses out of slavery and into freedom. Hallelujah! But the journey is long – 40 years by the time it’s over – and tiring. They’re walking through the desert and they are hot, and dusty, and tired. They are hungry and thirsty. And if Moses was expecting them to be jumping for joy at their new freedom, and thanking him, Moses must have been sorely disappointed. In fact, the people are complaining. A lot. I mean, they don’t have anything to eat, so I suppose that is worthy of complaint, but they start to say things like, “Maybe we were better off in Egypt as slaves. At least then we had FOOD and SHELTER....”
And Moses has his own doubts. The people are counting on him and his leadership. God told him to do this, but what’s going on here? Moses thought it might have been easier. So Moses has a little talk with God and God says, “Ok. Each morning I am going to make sure there’s bread and each night there will be meat (speaking as a vegetarian, I am certain the good Lord must also have provided some tofu...) enough for you to have your fill.
Those key words: enough for you to have your fill.
It’s really hard to live into those words sometimes. The rabbis tell the story like this:
When the people woke up and saw the ground filled with manna they rejoiced and gave thanks. They danced and shouted for joy. The Fathers started fires and the Mothers told their children to gather up as much as they could, while they dreamed of all the ways they could cook it. And after they had had their fill as promised, the people did what people do: they gathered up the extras to save it for tomorrow. Just in case...
Wait. God told Moses there would be manna every day, enough for all to have their fill. And yet the people gathered up the extras just in case... In case what? In case God doesn’t come through?
Later in the day when the people pulled out the manna they’d saved – everything stuffed into their packs and folded into their pockets - it was all spoiled. Rotten. Uneatable.
As you can imagine, the people didn’t all handle that very well. We might say they panicked. WHAT WILL WE DO NOW??? they exclaimed to one another. WHAT WILL WE EAT NOW?? They paced. They worried. They were sure all was lost. And that night, the quail came. Great flocks of quail. The Fathers started fires and the Mothers told their children to gather up as much as they could, while they dreamed of all the ways they could cook it. And after they had had their fill as promised, the people did what people do: they gathered up the extras to save it for tomorrow. Just in case...
Just in case... God doesn’t come through?
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Each morning the manna would be found on the ground, and each day the people would gather up as much extra as they could, just in case. Each day the extras would go bad and the people would panic. Each day. Each day they would worry that the next day they wouldn’t have enough.
Sir, give us this bread always.
We had Summer Stretch camp here at Saint Anne’s this week! Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen, and to everyone who as accommodating with the building, and to everyone who was so patient with me being so slow to return phone calls and emails while my focus was on the 45 kids and counselors here practicing ways to Do Justice, Love Kindness, and Walk Humbly.
And if I could only begin to tell you how many ways the message of the manna and quail showed up here every day at camp...
It started with one of the counselors unable to work after all, at the last minute. And just as I was trying to figure out how we could make it work anyway, my phone buzzed. It was a text from a previous counselor, an amazing young woman, who had said she couldn’t make it this year. But then, plans changed. And if we still needed people... I texted back, “You are the answer to prayers.”
And then there was the day we had to change plans unexpectedly and I needed to think of a game that would support our lesson of the day on the fly. It was the end of the week and my creativity was gone. I paced the rooms in the Ed Wing and berated myself – if only I’d had a backup plan from the beginning. Most people would have had a backup plan. Anyone who was GOOD at this would have had a backup plan... If only... That’s when I opened a seldom opened drawer and saw THIS staring up at me. A whole bag of puff balls! There isn’t anything that can’t be done with a bag of pull balls!
Now... I’m not saying God planted the puff balls. I don’t believe God works that way.
But what I do believe, and what I believe the message from Exodus and from John tries to bring to us today is that we always have what we need. Maybe we don’t always have what we want. And we do lose things, sometimes. We lose a lot sometimes, and we hurt deeply. It might be a medical diagnosis or the loss of a job. It might be a broken relationship. It might be the death of someone we loved so very much. It might be no “thing” at all, but the grips of anxiety or fear or darkness have ahold of us for some reason. And it might feel like we’ll never be ok again.
But we will be ok again. It will be ok. The manna and the quail will come. That is the promise. Julian of Norwich put it this way: All Shall Be Well. We may not have stockpiles – of money, time, energy, or peace of mind. We might not always get to feel secure - but we do have what we need. We are children of God, and that means we have enough.
The people of Israel learned this. It might have taken them 40 years in the desert to learn it, but they did. Eventually they stopped trying to store manna in their pockets and quail in their packs. Eventually they learned that each day they would be given just what they needed. What these stories try to tell us is that for as much as we like to try, we are not meant to know what the future will bring. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be responsible, that we make plans and consider about the future. Of course we should. But we should do it from a place of trust, not fear. From a sense of abundance, not scarcity. Because in the end, what we need is here.
This is part of a poem found written on a wall in a concentration camp:
I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining
And I believe in love, even when there’s no one there
I believe in God
even when God is silent
I believe through any trial, there is always a way.
This is what our stories remind us today. Look around. You are here. You woke up this morning. There is air to breathe and water to drink. The sun is shining and the birds are out. There are prayers to be said, songs to be sung, and there are people who need your compassion and caring. The world is here and now and you are in it. We may not always have what we think we need. We may not always have what we want. Our hearts will break sometimes. And yet, still. All we need is here. Breathe deeply and know All Shall Be Well.
Sir, give us this bread always. Yes. Yes. Yes. Always.