Monday, March 30, 2009

Laetare: Rejoice in What it is!

Now and again a word or even a phrase hits me right between two firing neurons and literally explodes with excitement and heavenly light. Such occurred on Laetare of this year, the Fourth Sunday in Lent–which was March 22.

The Old Testament reading included Exodus 16:15, “When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.’”

In Hebrew the word for the question asked is "manna," What is it? It’s a double entendre. The question names the thing asked about: Manna? Manna. It’s sort of an Hebraic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” Still, it’s by God’s giving that the question is asked and answered in the first place, so it is God’s happy joke on us.

Manna, is very similar to another question with which we are familiar, Luther’s Was ist das? (What is this?) of his Small Catechism. And this is where it all gets exciting.

After walking around in that huge vast desert the Children of Israel were hungry. So God fed them His way. He sent them bread from heaven. It sustained them in their temporal life, but not eternally. For that another Bread from heaven was needed. Jesus would speak of that later during His ministry on earth (Jn 6:49-58).

As God’s New Israel (He 8:8), the baptized wander in a desert no less vast and huge, no less fraught with dangers and enemies than our forefathers in faith did. They are just as hungry. God feeds them again with His heavenly food. Luther’s catechetical question makes the connection for us. God’s Word comes to us as heavenly bread; we ask,What is this? The answer is a confession according to His Word. Daily bread given; daily bread received. All this in preparation for the Greater Bread to be given and received in the gift of His Son who gives His own Flesh and Blood for us to eat and drink in the bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins.

Was ist das?, What is this? It is Christ, come down from heaven.

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