A Reading from the Book of Joshua (5:9-12)
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
(Refrain will be sung by soloist and repeated by all)
Refrain: I will turn to you, Lord,
in times of trouble,
and you will fill me with the joy of salvation
1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
6 I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8 You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you.”
11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (5:16-21)
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (15:1-3, 11b-32)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Most of you know that I have had a couple of different professions over the years. And there are a couple more that I would have liked to have — not instead of but in addition to the ones that I have actually experienced. But life provides us with only so many years.
There are also some professions that I definitely would not like to have. One of them is being the chef, or “Food Service Manager,” for a retirement community or nursing home. I think that that has to be a thankless job. I have spent enough time over the years visiting many of these facilities to know two things about that profession: (A) that the residents’ meals are an important focus of their day, and (B) that whatever the chef serves, it is never right. Even if, by some chance, the choice of food happens to be right, he or she has still not prepared it the way that each resident remembers it being prepared at home: whether “at home” means the way that they had it growing up or the way that they or their spouse prepared it over the years. The chef has never done it “the right way.” And of course, if there are, for example, 75 residents in a community, there are 75 different opinions about what “the right way” is. All of the residents seem to long for the food that they remember from their past. All of them seem to long for food from home.
To a certain extent, we all do. Whether or not the food that we remember was, from a culinary point of view, really good cooking, still there is something about returning to the foods that we remember from long ago that brings us home. The tastes and the smells of familiar dishes have a way of transporting us back to warm memories, to a sense of security, to a sense of being home. Whatever those foods may be, they can be for each of us comfort foods. Nothing is quite like food from home.
Both today’s first reading and today’s gospel reading involve the tasting of and the enjoying of food from home. In the familiar parable that we just heard, when the prodigal son returns home at last, his father runs out and greets him warmly. But the “welcome home” is not complete until the father has the servants bring him the best robe and put a ring on the young man’s finger (signs of acceptance and favor) and sandals on his feet (a sign that he is not a “hired hand”as he had asked to be, but a member of the family), and finally when they have sat down together and enjoyed the fatted calf, the food from home. Now the welcome home is complete. Obviously, not everything was, or ever would be, back to the way that it had been. There was a lot of work to be done, much healing to take place. But at least that healing could now take place at home.
Our first reading, too, involves food from home, but in a different sense. It is not a return to what was familiar, to what those Israelites had experienced long ago. Instead it is food from a home in which the Israelites had never lived before, a home that they had never even visited before. Still, as new and probably strange as the land of Canaan must have been to them, they knew that it was their real home.
Forty years of wandering in the wilderness had now come to an end. All those who had come out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses had died. A new generation had been born in the wilderness: a generation that knew only manna, the food that God had given them for the journey. It was that new generation that Joshua had led through the waters of the Jordan and up to the place where they had now gathered to celebrate their first Passover in the land of promise.
Now at last, their long journey had ended. God had brought God’s people into the Promised Land, their home of promise. And once that had taken place, the manna, the food that God had given them for the journey, had ceased; and the Israelites “ate the crops of the land of Canaan” for the first time. They finally tasted the food from home.
This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent, comes in the middle of our Lenten observance. Over the years, it has been known as “Laetare Sunday” (after the opening word of the old, Latin Introit) or “Refreshment Sunday.” In other places, it was and is called “Mothering Sunday”; the old custom was for people to visit their mothers on this day, taking them a cake and, presumably, having the opportunity to enjoy some food from home during their visit.
It seems to be in that spirit that the traditional Collect for this Sunday, the one that our Book of Common Prayer still includes and that we prayed at the beginning of our liturgy today, speaks of our food from home. “Gracious Father, who blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him.”
Each week, we gather here to share the life that God gives us in Jesus, receiving it in Word and Sacrament. By joining together in this celebration, by hearing God’s Word and by sharing the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we receive God’s gift of the true manna: the food that God gives us to nourish us in our journey, our journey through the wilderness of life and on to the place to which God has promised to lead us. The Eucharist is for us food for the journey.
Yet at the same time, the Eucharist is for us more than just something to feed us “in the meantime,” until we get to our ultimate goal. It is, as a prayer that we used here yesterday puts it, “a foretaste of your heavenly banquet… and a pledge of our inheritance” in our eternal home. By sharing in this Sacrament here at the Lord’s table, we are invited to enjoy a foretaste of the great banquet that God has prepared for all people on that great day of God’s choosing. The Eucharist serves, therefore, both as food for the journey and as food from home.
Like the Israelites long ago, we find ourselves on a long journey: the journey of our lives. Like them, we face many challenges and many opportunities, many joys and many sorrows along the way. We need food from God to sustain us, to renew God’s life in us, and to give us strength as we continue that journey. And like them, we too have received from God food to nourish us on the journey: our living manna.
But like the Israelites long ago, our journey has an end, a destination, a Promised Land waiting for us. Like them, we have never been to that Promised Land before; but in the Eucharist we can have at least a foretaste of the feast waiting for us there. And like the prodigal son, we know that we have a loving Father waiting there to welcome us home and to welcome us to the homecoming feast.
The Eucharist is for us God’s true manna: God’s gift of food to nourish us on the way. But at the same time, it is also a taste of the great homecoming feast that is yet to come. It is, by God’s grace, both food for our journey and our real food from home.