Sub Dean Canon Michael Rawson
It’s hard to cast our minds back a year to the start of the first lockdown when food shops looked as though a plague of locusts had descended.
Staple foods were suddenly in short supply or not available at all and people wondered if they would be able to feed their families. A friend of mine went shopping for her large family and sent me a series of photos of the empty shelves in a huge supermarket in Kent. She went home with nothing. Flour was particularly scarce as people began baking bread and cakes, no doubt resulting in our expanded Coronavirus waistlines. Fights broke out in checkout queues over toilet paper – I’ve never quite understood why people stockpiled it – I suspect the same didn’t happen over a kilo of stoneground wholemeal flour or spelt.
It all sounds a little like the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness we heard about in the First Lesson. The people were moaning to Moses that they were hungry and would have been better off staying in slavery in Egypt where they had their fill of food. In response to their complaints and with love for the people, the Lord promises to ‘rain bread from heaven’ which the people are to gather each day as they experience the glory of the Lord. Not only did the Lord provide manna, or bread for them but also flocks of quails – small birds – which arrived in their camp in the evening. Out of need comes plenty; from a place a wilderness there is a found hope and abundance.
The people sorely tested the Lord with their complaints and yet the Lord never disowned them or turned away from them, but rather, provided for their needs. One of the significant phrases in the reading is, ‘As Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.’ In the midst of the arid place of desolation, where little can flourish and grow, precisely there the Lord is seen in glory. God visited the people and bestowed providence upon them in their hunger and dis-ease.
Perhaps it’s part of the human condition that we often concentrate on the negative – the challenges and issues facing us, the things we don’t possess, the opportunities we feel are lacking. It is precisely in our need, our pain, our lack of certainty that God visits us too and the glory of the Lord appears in our midst. Looking back over the last year or perhaps in our lives today there are challenges, distress and deep sorrow. None of us can escape such experiences. And yet at the same time there are beautiful and selfless acts of kindness and care shown to each of us by others; of people shining a light in our darkness and offering us hope, consolation and expressions of God’s healing presence in our midst. Sometimes we need to refocus our attentions, to change direction from looking at the wilderness of our life experience and instead to focus on the ways in which God comes to us with God’s providence and care and blessings, opening our hearts and eyes to the God who knows us and loves us better than we do ourselves and counts every hair of our heads. Amen.