“Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness …” These words from today’s reading from Deuteronomy struck me in a particular way this week. I have driven across the Sinai Peninsula; even walking in family groups, you would need to go “the long way” in order to take 40 years to make the trip! We are told that God chose this long way in order to humble the people and test what was in their hearts.
Recently it has seemed that we too are taking the “long way.” Everywhere we turn we see brokenness and pain. Whether it is the large-scale suffering caused by the pandemic, the economic crisis, systemic racism, or climate change, or the more mundane suffering caused by illness, family tensions, grief and loss, too many in our society are hurting. Like the Israelites in the desert, we can start to feel that we do not have what we need to survive and keep going and we can wonder what God is doing and why.
Ever since the Exodus, the words of Deuteronomy have served as a promise of hope in times of upheaval when despair threatens. “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that man does not live by bread alone.” There will be times when we cannot see the way forward because the way forward involves something completely new. We will have to do things in ways we never imagined. We will have to allow our way of seeing and our way of understanding to be transformed by God.
On this feast of Corpus Christi, we are reminded that when the world feels hopeless it is our participation in the Eucharist that offers us a way forward. This is a feast of transformation; we receive the body of Christ in order to become one with Christ. We receive the body of Christ in order to become one with the One who moves through death into life. Jesus has given himself as bread for the life of the world. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we too become bread for the life of the world. In our “Amen” we accept God’s offer to change the world by changing us.
Whether we are talking about the environment, Covid-19 or systemic racism, the well-being of the world requires that we, as individuals, be willing to change. Like the Israelites, we have to journey through the wilderness of uncertainty in which we can no longer rely on old patterns of behaviour. And like the Israelites, we will be sustained by the living bread which comes from God. Even if the journey takes far longer than we expected, even if the path seems to wind back on itself far too often, when we come to the table of the Lord we are given what we need to keep moving forward with hope.