All roads in Christchurch last night seemed to lead to the Super Rugby Final.
I was driving through Addington on my way home to watch the game as thousands were converging on the stadium; people both young and old, the fit and the fragile, of all nations both locals and visitors.
A brief chat with any of the crowd would have revealed that they all had struggles, griefs and hopes, joys and anxieties, worries about health and money, struggles with compulsions, addictions and anxieties, fears in relationships and griefs as well as hopes and joys.
But as they made their way to the park it seemed that they had one gaze and one goal.
The masses moving to the park were a mixed bunch, a real diversity, united by only one thing. They were all hoping for a good game and the right team to win. They looked happy, expectant, hopeful, and for the couple of hours that followed all their anxieties fell into the shadow of a great unity and common focus.
Last night’s pilgrimage to the park is a great image for today’s homily and the connection is the great Old Testament Exodus story.
Even after the great miracles of God, including the parting of the Red Sea, the people return to grumbling. They constantly forget that God is present and active among them. They lose sight of the fact that God will not let them down, and can and will do anything to save them.
They forget that they are on a great journey to the promised land, and all their current struggles have a positive side bonding them together in a pilgrimage towards the one thing that will satisfy them now and eternally.
We pick up today’s first reading in the weeks after the great parting of the sea miracle. It is as if the people have already forgotten the power of God. They have forgotten that God even has power over nature, that God can and will do anything to save them, and so today we find them grumbling:
“The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”
Not only are they grumbling, they have lost sight of their hope, their freedom, and are now saying that they were better off as slaves in captivity:
“Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt,
as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!
But you had to lead us into this desert
to make the whole community die of famine!”
No surprise, the Lord responds to their need. Remember the psalm from last weekend: “The hand of the Lord feeds us, he answers all our needs.”
At this point my reflection could go off in several different and equally inspiring directions. We could focus on the fact that even when we grumble God hears us and responds to us. In today’s reading the Lord responds immediately sending them food, bread and quail from heaven.
WHY CHOOSE SLAVERY OVER FREEDOM?
But today I want to reflect on a central question: Why is it that that at the first hint of difficulty, and immediately following one of the greatest miracles of human history, the people want to give up their journey to freedom and return to slavery?
I know we have all experienced this. Perhaps you have longed to be free from a habit, an addiction or a sin and for some days or months felt you were making progress. But then out of the blue the thought comes: surely my old ways were not really that bad, everyone else is doing it, just once won’t hurt. Then we give up, we lose our forward vision and sense of adventure and we start to prefer going backwards.
Last night the movement I noticed was to the game. It would have taken something pretty exceptional to get someone who was on their way to the Super Rugby Final to turn away before the goal of the game and head home. Why is this?
Well, theres a lot to be said for moving with a crowd. But for us followers of Jesus most people seem to be moving in another direction with goals of the “isms” of life, capitalism, materialism, commercialism, consumerism, agnosticism…the list is long.
But these “isms” have a common flaw: they never deliver what they promise. Our experience tells us this.
The one who has plenty of what the world offers only wants more. And more and even more is never enough. These “isms” are a mirage, and a mirage is deceitful: it promises refreshment, but when you get there, there is nothing and the thirst is even worse because of the dashed hope.
This eternal focus is the heart of the life of the Christian. The people journeying through the Old Testament desert were held together by their vision towards the Promised Land. They also knew that through Moses God would lead them there.
If you told last nights Crusaders and Lions supporters only that the game was going to be played on a rugby ground somewhere in Canterbury, people would have been heading in every direction chasing every mirage. Personal and common clarity about a destination is important. Very important.
But human life is not on hold until we reach the destination. Life is to be lived, even in the desert, and the desert is often not an attractive place. Yes, here we have to seek out and work for what we need, but we are travelling with those we love, our family and friends, parishioners, especially those who are willing to fully consciously and actively participate in the ups and downs of the journey. Here on this earthly journey we are not alone, our guide, leader, brother and friend is God himself, Jesus who is with us every moment of every day and night.
Our mission on earth is to embrace the journey with all is ups and downs knowing that we are not alone. Too much of the time we slip into the trap of either wanting to return to a perfect state we once knew, or living in a fantasy, attached to mirages.
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.And the Gospel today brings us to the heart of the message:“Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life …
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Remember that life on earth is a journey not a destination. This means that while we taste moments of real love, beauty, friendship and deep satisfaction there will always be a restlessness. God has built this restlessness into us to keep us moving towards our common destination.
Our joy in life is not found in reaching destinations and achieving goals but in journeying together towards the life for which we were created. This future vision enables us to live fully in the midst of the difficulties of daily life.
So the Crusaders have won the final and here in Canterbury there is celebration. But this satisfaction will fade, and within a few hours the demands and routines of our lives will take priority.
Thanks be to God we are on a much greater journey.
Let’s together embrace this adventure to eternal life today.