Manna -- What is it?
Written by Jonathan Page, Pastor of Herndon United Methodist Church.
The Israelite people called it manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and tasted like honey wafers. Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept safe for future generations so that they can see the food that I used to feed you in the desert when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”
Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put one full omer of manna in it. Then set it in the Lord’s presence, where it should be kept safe for future generations.” Aaron did as the Lord commanded Moses, and he put it in front of the covenant document for safekeeping. The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a livable land. They ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. -Exodus 16:31-35
“What is it?” The question likely reverberates in the ears of a parent listening to a curious child, in the mind of the bored student in the lifeless lecture hall, and even in the hearts of people this day and millenia before this day. Manna, the blessing from God to God’s people in the midst of their deepest wandering, is really uncertain stuff. At the root of the word manna, the Hebrew offers this question that can be both the simplest of curiosities and the fullest question of the soul. Quite simply, what is it?
In this question, there is not only exocticism, but something even greater for the Israelite people of then and us in this day: provision. Manna, even though it is unfamiliar and different, is meant to be enough for the Israelites as they navigate the wilderness of their day. For us, perhaps it is meant to be enough as we navigate the wilderness spaces of our own lives.
As Exodus 16 concludes, there is this instruction from Moses to Aaron about how the Israelite people will memorialize this blessed gift from God. They are to fill a jar with one omer of manna and keep it in God’s presence for generations to come. Because of this, it will be a persistent reminder of God’s faithfulness even in the midst of people’s uncertainty. It will be a story that is passed from generation to generation. A gift that long exceeds its present fruitfulness.
For us, perhaps this is the reminder we need of the Messiah we long to encounter in the season of Lent. In this particular season, we’re likely aware of just how mortal we are and just how lost and broken the world around us might feel. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a very wilderness-like feel to an otherwise ordered and controlled life. We are searching and longing for some kind of provision and some kind of hope.
It is into this reality that Christ is born, that Christ lives, ministers, teaches, and heals. It is into this world that Christ is beaten, given over to suffering and death upon a cross. But it is into this space that Christ journeys through all Hell, through every wilderness we may ever know, to bring about the good news of resurrection, redemption, forgiveness, and the gift of life eternal.
So often the way Christ comes into our lives and into God’s creation is curious and unbelievable. We wonder how God might have know this or done that? We are left begging the question “What is it?”
But when the what or the who or the why or the how or whatever the question might be receives the response of Jesus, perhaps we find ourselves to be not so different from the Israelites. In our own wandering, there is enough. Jesus is provision for the otherwise unthinkable spaces of this life, the story worth sharing from generation to generation.
May Christ be a blessing, a generous portion, enough for our lives. Even when our lives are found in the wilderness of all creation.