Begin by reading Exodus 16:2-15. Now reflect on our congregation: who we were, who we are now, and where we seem to be heading; then pray your way through the four questions. When you have done this, read the brief reflection below.
- What did you leave to join Sanctuary?
- What makes it difficult to stay?
- What do you complain to God about?
- What are you hungry for?
We are entering our second year as a congregation, and, for some of us, it feels like the wilderness. This church plant was fresh and exciting for a while, so full of promise; but the reality of an ordinary pastor working with a group of tired and busy and hypermobile families is probably not what any of us expected. Sundays come around too quickly; it’s difficult to turn up. Our journey seems aimless: we head this way, then that. We’re moving too slowly for some, too fast for others; almost certainly in the wrong direction and with not enough consultation—except for those who think we talk too much. We have communion too often; we don’t share our lives much; we’re too weird, we’re not weird enough, we’re nothing like what a church could be; and yet here we are, the church.
And so we grumble. We grumble about each other; we grumble about the kids. We grumble about not having deep conversations; we grumble when the conversation becomes risky. We grumble about the liturgy, and the music, and the pastor; and some of us are looking back to the ways we have known and wondering why we left them behind.
If we go back to our formational documents, we find answers. We took this path for a reason: because we were hungry. Our faith was starved, shrivelled, dry. We were hungry for Bible; we were hungry for communion; we were hungry for a place to belong; we were hungry for a group which would disciple our children. And so we gather around Word and Table in order to be fed. To be fed by the stories, to be fed by the bread, to be fed by each other, to be fed by the presence which deeply satisfies.
Yet still we find ourselves at odds; still we find ourselves in the wilderness. And even although God is with us, and feeds us, it is not what we expect. “Manna?” we ask, “What is it?” This bread, this wine, this water, this way of gathering, these stories: they may not be what we expect; they may not even taste good; and the repetition begins to get us down. But they are a gift, God’s gift, granted in a time of hunger; and if we accept them when they are offered, they will sustain us through this wilderness.
And even if we feel like we’re wandering aimlessly; even if we’re grumbling; even if we’re longing for the old ways, we must remember: these feelings have precedent. The people of God have been here before. And remember, too, that we’re in good company. For as we keep gathering around heaven’s bread—Word and Table—we are gradually being formed into the body of Christ, God’s own people; and this means that we are travelling, one step at a time, into God’s future, together.
As to what shape that future will take? Well, that’s another story. Ω
A reflection on Exodus 16:2-15 by Alison Sampson, Sanctuary, 24 September 2017 (AP20)