The Light in the Wilderness

Scripture Passage:  Psalm 22: 23-31 (Lent 2B Psalter)

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!  24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! 27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. 29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. 30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, 31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

This psalm is probably more meaningful in its entirety.  The beginning verses (which are not included in our psalter for today) bear an agonizing pain by the Psalmist, one who is feeling lonely and desperate.  The writer is surrounded by enemies and is sure of God’s abandonment.  It’s kind of like how we usually think of the wilderness.  You can imagine standing in the Judean desert with the winds whipping around you and the sands stinging your eyes.  You just want it to end.  You’ve resolved that you can’t go back but you want this desperation and pain to be over. You want to see something up ahead.

And then, almost abruptly, the threat is gone.  The Psalmist is no longer surrounded by enemies but is aware of the surrounding community, a community of worship, a community of God’s people stretching out for generations.  God has heard the cries of the children and despair has been replaced with blessing, lament has turned into praise.  And the psalmist knows that God is everlasting, that even future generations will know of God’s presence.

This Psalm is also read on Good Friday.  You can understand why.  It is the story of one forsaken who ultimately encounters blessing and redemption.  But it’s a good psalm for our wilderness journey through Lent.  I mean, it’s hard to wander through the wilderness and always know that God is there, always know that you have not been abandoned.  Sometimes we need to be reminded and, let’s face it, sometimes we just need a good old pity party before we are again able to remember God’s promise that the beloved Creation will never be abandoned.  I think God knows that.  We are made to be human.  We feel pain.  We feel despair.  We feel abandonment.  Stuff happens in our lives.  Sometimes the wilderness seems to have no end. 

And, then, just as suddenly as our despair overtook us, we are able to see again.  Maybe the winds have shifted.  Maybe the sands have calmed.  Or maybe, we are finally ready to encounter the One who walks with us through it all.  And God is there.  And, like the Psalmist, we feel joy once again.  But I don’t think joy comes and goes.  It’s not like happiness.  Happiness is fleeting.  But joy is deep and abiding.  It never really leaves once we have it.  But sometimes, sometimes we have to be reminded of it.  And it’s OK if we have to wander in the wilderness a little while to remember.  God is patient even if we need a little pity party now and then.  God is patiently waiting for us to remember yet again that we are a son or daughter of God with whom God is well pleased. 

Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of Creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless. (Henri Nouwen, from “The Return of the Prodigal Son”)

Grace and Peace,


When the Manna Ceases to Be

MannaScripture Passage (Joshua 5: 9-12)

9The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. 10While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.


It was a glorious morning when the manna first showed up, fields upon fields of what seemed to be never-ending sustenance in the midst of deep hunger and despair. They ate their fill and it went away only to show up yet again the next day. It was what they needed at the time. It was God’s mercy and God’s grace and God’s fill raining down upon them. They had come out of Egypt downtrodden and emotionally beaten. They were not who they had been or who they were supposed to be. They couldn’t provide for themselves and the anger and the frustration and the disgrace became a part of their lives. They seemed to be in some sort of never-ending spiral of despair upon despair. And then, one day, they awoke to manna, gleaming pools of white that beckoned them to eat their fill, to feel better. It was comfort food at is finest.


And then one day, they ate unleavened bread and parched grain. It was food that they had grown and harvested, food that they had been able to produce themselves. It was wonderful, wonderful to eat of the harvest that they had a hand in bringing to be. It felt good to feel like they were getting back on their feet again. And then they realized that the manna has ceased to be. It no longer came unbidden in the morning. It no longer just appeared out of the clouds. It no longer came and what was interesting was that they really hadn’t realized it.


The manna was never meant to be permanent. It was never intended to be the thing that would sustain them forever. You can call it a stop-gap of sorts. But it’s probably better depicted as God’s way of helping us stand. We all have times of despair, times when the manna is the only thing we have to sustain us. But if we spent the rest of our lives just eating manna every morning, what would life really hold? We couldn’t leave the place and travel to new worlds. We have to be there in the morning when the fields burst into white. We couldn’t just relax and maybe even sleep in. After all, the manna was only there for a couple of hours. But, more importantly, we couldn’t grow. We couldn’t become those who God intended us to be—the planters, the harvesters, the helpers, those that hope for something more, that understand that God promises something more. So God gently nudges us away from this sort of dependence. (God did that before when we first began…I mean, does anyone even remember where that little Garden is anymore?) Maybe God’s intention is not that we be dependent upon God but that we choose to depend upon God. Those are different.


So in this Lenten season, we remember the manna. We remember the way that God sustained us, holding us, helping us stand. We remember and then begin to walk. And what we learn is that God is not trying to limit our world or constrict our view. God is there when we need help standing. And then when we begin to walk, when we finally begin to hope, when we begin to become more of who God intends us to be, God walks with us as we plant and harvest and become a part of growing God’s Kingdom. And if we fall again, God will pick us up and show us fields of manna—if only for a time. We can depend on that.


Let yourself get shaken up. What are you willing to give up to ensure your own unfolding, and the unfolding of what is holy in your life? Where you stumble, here is your treasure. (Joseph Campbell)


Thank you for sharing your Lenten journey with me!


Grace and Peace,