One of the beauties of Jack preaching the Old Testament lectionary passages is that it gives us a stronger sense of the through line of the Gospel. The Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea are not just stories from a distant time and people, but foundations upon which our own faith is built. Even though Jesus is never mentioned in the salvation stories of Exodus, we now understand Jesus to be their completion: the unblemished lamb whose blood was put on the doorposts is complete in the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, whose blood was offered once and for all; passing through the waters of the Red Sea is a foreshadowing of our passing through the baptismal waters. As 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 puts it: Our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.
This week we turn our attention to the story of manna in the wilderness. Jesus revealed himself to be the fulfillment of this story: Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:31-35) The communion bread continues to be understood as modern manna: bread from heaven, the bread of life, which is the very body of Jesus Christ.
For a worship planner, this is a liturgical slam-dunk. Almost every song we’ll sing in communion this week is one that makes a connection between the miraculous bread from heaven that the Israelites ate and the bread of life we eat at the Table. (Just count the number of times manna appears in today’s music!)
Of special note are two songs that share the same roots. “Food for Pilgrim People” is a Korean song we sing frequently in communion. Today it will be directly followed by “O Food to Pilgrims Given,” a text that has never appeared in a Reformed hymnal, set to a tune perhaps best known as “Ich bin’s, ich sollte büßen” from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. I happened to notice strong similarities between the two hymns, and discovered that they are both translations of the Latin hymn, “O Esca Viatorum.” This is not just hymn geekery. (Though it is that.) It is a chance to experience a chant of the early Church through two modern hymnists’ perspectives. And what a rich hymn it is! Look at the way the authors connect manna to the communion bread, and water from the rock (next week’s sermon) with the water that flowed from Christ’s side. Also notice the Trinitarian sensibility imbedded in the song’s structure: verse 1 shows God the giver of manna and sustainer of his people; verse 2 speaks of Jesus’ sacrifice; and verse 3 hints at the Spirit, the “presence” of the communion’s mystery.
I pray that as we hear these foundational stories of God’s people, our own faith will become more deeply rooted and more richly experienced.
–Greg Scheer, minister of worship