Deuteronomy 8:2-3

The New Manna

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Deuteronomy 8:2-3

The New Manna

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

Everything that happens in Christian liturgy
can remind us
of who we are as God’s people.
This is certainly true today
on Corpus Christi,
a feast dedicated specifically
to Christ’s Body and Blood
present and available
in the consecrated Bread and Wine.
For today we can remember
that we are God’s people on pilgrimage,
sustained by manna sent from heaven.
We can also remember
that Christ wants
our experience of this sustenance
to shape how we live in the world.


The narrative behind Corpus Christi
goes back beyond the labors
of Blessed Juliana of Liege,
a thirteenth century nun
who struggled to establish the feast.

The narrative goes back beyond
even the institution of the Eucharist
by our Lord Jesus Christ
when he met with his disciples
on the night before his death.

The narrative for this feast reaches back
as far as the wilderness wanderings
of Israel on their passage from Egypt
to the promised land.
For Corpus Christi,
the Body and the Blood of Christ,
is the new and better manna.
Appreciating its significance requires us
to recall the old manna
by which God nourished his people
during their time in the wilderness.

Soon after their departure from Egypt,
the Israelites accuse Moses and Aaron
of bringing them into the wilderness
to kill them with hunger.
In response, the Lord rains down
bread from heaven for them to eat.
This manna comes six days a week.
For each of the first five days,
the Israelites are to gather
only enough for one day.
On the sixth day,
they are to gather enough for two days
to allow them to rest on the Sabbath.

Once the morning dew has vanished,
a flaky substance as fine as frost
appears on the ground.
It is white,
resembles coriander seed or gum resin,
and tastes like wafers made with honey.
The stuff is called manna,
a name that means “What is it?”
The people grind up this “What is it?”
Then they boil it and make cakes from it.
A quantity comes to be kept
with the ark of the covenant
as a reminder of how God
provided food for his people.

Scripture eventually celebrates this manna
as “the bread of angels,”  1
as the “food of angels .  .  .
providing every pleasure
and suited to every taste.”  2

So the people of Israel find themselves hungry
and in a threatening wilderness.
God provides them with manna.
We find ourselves in the wilderness,
the wilderness of this life, of this world.
God provides us with food also,
Christ’s Body and Blood,
to nourish us for eternal life.


At the same time,
we encounter formidable barriers
that may prevent us
from responding to this great gift
with undefended hearts.

We may fail to recognize
that we are God’s people on pilgrimage,
that we are sustained by his gifts,
and that our experience of this sustenance
is meant to shape
how live in the world.

• It may not occur to us
that we are God’s people on pilgrimage
and that this is our fundamental identity.
Rather than pilgrims led by God,
we may experience ourselves as wanderers
with no sense of direction.
Or we may see ourselves as sedentary,
preoccupied with tending to our own gardens
and building up the walls around us.

In contrast to these alternatives,
God summons us to the greatest of adventures.
He leads us forth
from every type of slavery,
whether voluntary or involuntary.
Through our missteps and our trials,
as well as through his patient forbearance,
he forms us into a people
who have reason to sing his praises
because through this process
we become our true selves,
able to love
and allowing ourselves to be loved.

• It may not occur to us
that we are sustained by the gifts of God.
One prison that may hold us fast
is belief in our own self-sufficiency.
We may be trapped by an insistence
that we have earned whatever we have
or that we must earn whatever we want.
It is hard to outgrow
this tiresome rote exercise
regarding our supposed merit.

In contrast to such self-centeredness,
God welcomes us into a life of abundance
which is at the same time a life of simplicity.
We trust God to supply us with daily manna,
our daily bread,
and gradually we let go of the fear
that expresses itself in hoarding.
Thanksgiving becomes not only a November holiday,
but a daily practice that opens us to what is real.
We discover how simplicity and enough and abundance
all describe the same lifestyle
that leads us into generous sharing
with anyone who shows up.

• It may not occur to us either
that Christ wants our experience
of daily sustenance while on pilgrimage
to shape how we live in the world.
There’s a lot to distract us in this culture.
Fears and desires,
some of them manufactured and imposed on us,
can pull our attention away
from life’s great adventure
and send us packing
back to slavery in Egypt.


Therefore it is something wise and wonderful
that we are doing here tonight.
Celebrating the Holy Mass.
Receiving Communion.
Processing round the block
with the Sacrament of the Altar.
Benediction in the open air
of our urban neighborhood.

All these ritual actions together constitute
a reminder that we need and the world needs.
For we are nothing less than God’s own people,
and our life depends on the new manna,
Christ’s Body and Blood.
This we assert in the face of all distractions,
unintentional and intentional,
bearing our witness to unconquerable truth.

From this identity and this nourishment
we have a basis
for living in the world
in a way that gives glory to God
and provides hope for ourselves and our neighbors.

Our actions this night attest to the truth
that the living God is not far away,
a holy existence is possible,
and that justice, mercy, and humility
are what the world needs.
This adventure of a life
given and sustained by God
can become as apparent
as a pure white host
at the center of a sunburst monstrance.

1.  Psalm 78:25.

2.  Wisdom of Solomon 16:20.

Copyright 2013, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.