June 22, 2014
Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
Too often, we forget. People used to tie strings around their fingers to remember, but now we have all sorts of buzzers, beeps, ringtones, iCals, and even text message reminders to help us remember our appointments, pay our bills on time, and get where we need to go. Remembering, and remembering at the right time, is a perpetual problem. On this Sunday’s feast of Corpus Christi, in the first reading we are reminded to remember—to remember all the great things God has done for us, his people.
The whole book of Deuteronomy portrays Moses’ final pep talk to the people of Israel before they cross the River Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. He retells the story of the journey through the desert and their deliverance from Egypt. He reminds them of how God has demonstrated his love and power by setting them free and leading them in safety to a new land. He also warns them against forgetting in the future.
Trial by “What’s it?”
Before he encourages the people to look forward, Moses asks them to look back on God’s faithfulness. The Lord tested his people “by affliction,” specifically by the affliction of hunger. They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach—I guess God knows this to be true! When we’re physically hungry our will can hit a serious testing point. God tests his people in order to “find out” their intention to keep or to break his commands. After a time of afflicting hunger, he sends heavenly manna to his people.
Now manna in Hebrew simply means “What is it?” because it was a food no one had ever eaten it before. Ironically, even Jesus talks about manna as “bread from heaven” (John 6:32) but here Moses tells us that God sent the manna specifically to show his people that “not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” The trial of the Israelites by hunger, then by the mysterious “What’s it?” food from the sky was meant to help them recognize their dependence on God for their whole life.
Foreshadowing the True Bread
The Church offers us this reading that mentions manna twice on the feast of Corpus Christi on purpose. Among the many Old Testament “types” for the Eucharist, manna stands out as one that Jesus directly invokes. The lesson of the manna and the lesson of the Eucharist are the same. Each of them is meant to teach us to depend on God, not on ourselves. Each is meant to sustain us for the journey ahead. The Eucharist, the true bread from heaven, as the “source and summit of the Christian life,” fills us with God’s presence and empowers us to walk on the way with Jesus.
A Journey Behind
For the Israelites, their manna-fueled journey was almost at an end. The manna itself would cease coming down as soon as they crossed into the Promised Land. Moses helps them look back on the long journey on which the Lord has sustained them to ready them for the task at hand: conquering the land. By remembering his faithfulness in the past, they can look forward to his saving help in the future. By looking back, they can look forward with hope. But if they forget the Lord, forget his love, forget his faithfulness, then they will falter.
Don’t Forget to Remember
The verses left out of our reading (Deut 8:4-14a) reflect more on the Israelites’ wandering, describe the Promised Land in juicy detail and anticipate the difficulty of remaining faithful to the Lord in the midst of a prosperous future. These verses climax with 8:14b: “Do not forget the Lord, your God.” It might seem kind of funny to say it, but memory is who we are. If we forget whom we love, and who loves us, if we forget the past, we forget who we are. But remembering takes work, repetition, practice. This is why ritual, reading, recalling, and reflecting are so important to us. In fact, the Eucharist itself is a kind of “memory meal.” Jesus tells us to “do this in memory of me.” The Greek word for this kind of remembrance is anamnesis. When we participate in the Mass, we remember what Jesus has done for us, remember how God delivered us from the slavery of sin, remember the journey he has led us on and look forward to the journey to come.
So while it’s true that all our cell phone apps and widgets that help us remember can distract us from God, perhaps they also could help us not to forget to remember who it is that put us here in the first place.