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What is that? Manna

July 22, 2015

Exodus 16: 1-5, 9-15                         Wednesday 22nd July 2015

Well today’s excerpt from the book of Exodus is all about manna from heaven and, of course, there are parallels with the Bread of God, the Eucharist.

During my career I was given leadership roles that were sometimes quite difficult to do – and not least amongst these is introducing changes successfully. If you introduce change of any sort there will be people who resist it. This is just natural: they know what they are used to; they like what they like. It works. As they say, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t change it’. But sometimes events mean that you have to change, sometimes change is just unavoidable – not least because sometimes the money runs out, and things have to be done differently.

If you study the introduction and management of change (which I did, because I was tasked with leading change), you can learn something about what is likely to happen when changes are introduced. In today’s reading we have an example of people reacting to major changes.

Studies repeatedly show that a few weeks into any major change there is what could be called a ‘wobble’ (and you may have experienced this in your own careers). People begin to say things like, ‘This is not working’ or ‘This is going to be a disaster’. How do you deal with that sort of thing? It can be really difficult. You need to keep communication up; you need to be in touch with the people affected by the change; you need to listen to them very carefully, because there may be some truth in what they are saying. (There is frequent problem that managers often drive-through change against the advice of the people actually doing the work on the ground, and it can indeed turn into a disaster.)

When I embarked on the major change management project of my career, first of all I got together with my senior management team around me. I told them what was likely to be the reaction to change and I virtually predicted what would happen – that there was going to be ‘a wobble’ in confidence. It did happen, and I called it ‘wobble Wednesday’. It happened a couple of months into the changes, and there was tremendous pressure, not least tremendous pressure on the leaders, me and the team around me. It can feel very lonely. People will come to dislike the leaders. They will come to see their leaders as being against them, thinking things like, ‘that individual is the person who has caused all this this’, or ‘this is the terrible person who is causing all this change and disruption.’ The senior management team leading the change needs to pull together and know why this happening and how to deal with it, otherwise their leadership can wobble too, and the whole project will be doomed.

God had decided that the people of Israel were coming out of Egypt, led by Moses. They followed Moses out, but they weren’t necessarily 100% sold on the idea. The leadership team at that stage was Moses and his brother Aaron. (Moses hadn’t learnt to delegate properly at this stage and tried to do everything himself – Moses learnt more about management further on in the Book of Exodus, when things got really difficult). In today’s story we see the people of Israel beginning to say, ‘We want to go back, this isn’t working. At least we got fed when we were slaves. We want to go back to slavery in Egypt!’ The pressure Moses and Aaron were under would have been enormous.

An interesting little aside here. In verse 5 it refers to the people saying, ‘We used to be in Egypt where there were pans of meat’. Actually that’s a new translation: it is an example of why you have to keep translating the Scriptures for each generation, because words change their meaning. There is an older translation of the Book of Exodus and ‘pans of meat’ comes out as ‘fleshpots’. The word ‘fleshpots’ has become associated with immoral behaviour (which indeed was the case in pagan Egypt). But it’s the fleshpots of Egypt that they want to go back to! They wanted to go back to their evil ways. That cannot be right.

And in verse 12 is where the actual crunch comes: God says, ‘I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel.’ They had been moaning to Moses and his brother, and God obviously heard what they were saying. And you can compare that with the earlier extract from the book of Exodus (Chapter 3, verse 9), where they are enslaved in misery in Egypt, when God said to Moses, ‘I have heard the cry of the people of Israel. I’m going to save them.’ It’s an echo of what God had said earlier.

We then learn about ‘manna from heaven’. And the thing that I find interesting is that the Jews were introducing new rules, and one of the rules was that you would not work on the Sabbath. And just embedded there in today’s reading is this protection of the Sabbath as a holy day when you don’t work. How was the Sabbath protected? It was protected because God told them that on one day of the week there would be a double portion of manna delivered. Yes, they collected the manna on a daily basis – except the day before the Sabbath, when they got a double helping, so that they didn’t have to work collecting it on the seventh day.

And there is a parallel there with our Lord. The fact is that later on, the Jewish People believed that when the hoped-for Messiah would come, they thought that he would bring manna from heaven, just like Moses did. What did our Lord do? Well, we have the stories in the gospels of Him feeding people, a multiplication of loaves. Bread! Note the connection with bread. There was the ‘Feeding of the 5000’. And the interesting thing about the Feeding of the 5000 is that at the end, when they had their fish and their bread – their meat and bread, quails and manna (exactly the same, protein and carbohydrate – a good, full diet) – at the end of it all, they collected all the scraps together and there were 12 basketfuls left over. That’s the extra portion for the next day. If you study the Gospel of John with its story of the Feeding of the 5000 (John 6), we think it happened on the day before the Sabbath, and we think that those 12 baskets are a direct parallel of what happened with the manna – a double helping. 12 baskets (one basket each for each tribe of Israel). Just a little parallel there, but the earliest Christians would have spotted these things. They were very significant parallels that pointed to the true identity of Jesus.

There is another connection between Jesus and bread: He was born in Bethlehem. ‘beth’ means ‘the house of’ (as in the House of the Lord, ‘Beth-el’) And ‘lehem’ means ‘bread’. Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’ Had been originally in English, Jesus would have been born in a town called ‘Bakersville’! Jesus is the source of Holy Bread; He came from a place that is called ‘the house of bread’. Astonishing!

And then in verse 15 we hear the people saying, when they see the manna, a sort of hoarfrost on the ground, they said, ‘What is this?’

And in Hebrew ‘What is this?’ is ‘Man hu’. That’s where we get the name manna: manna means, ‘What is this?’ They didn’t know what it was, but they soon found out!

So, finally, we know that Jesus provides us with the Bread of Heaven; God provides us with the food we need. We are now going to move towards receiving Holy Communion, with our Lord in the form of consecrated bread, and before we do that we always say the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught us this prayer, and today it’s worth focusing on the words ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Like the way God provided manna from heaven in the wilderness, we too only require the bread we need for this day. There is no need to store it up – it will go stale. God provides us with our daily bread, and we are about to share in that Holy Bread.

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