Part 19 in a series; see other parts here.
We wander in this wilderness of life, sojourning strangers for our threescore and ten, our time marked out by the recurring cycle of hunger, whether for the fleshpots of Egypt or the milk and honey of the promised land. Hunger leads us into a strange temporality, its present pangs bound up in memories of past satiety and the hope for future feasts. Sometimes we can almost even taste what is no longer there or what soon will be, and thus we pray, straining to bring near what still feels so far away.
Where God gave the children of Israel manna in their wilderness, God gives us prayer in ours. Prayer brings us the nourishment we need for another day’s walk, and each day we can gather only enough for that day: the morrow will require prayers of its own. Our Sabbath, though, brings its own double portion, as we feed both on prayer and on the body and blood that are their own kind of heavenly food.
Prayer is the manna that we lift up to God, and by it God lifts us up. “Give us this day our daily bread,” the Lord taught us to pray: we need the prayer and the bread together to sustain us. But in prayer, we recompense God’s feeding us by feeding God, who experiences heaven without us as a wilderness, with a higher manna. If prayer teaches us gratitude for God’s generous provision, prayer also grows our care and solicitude for God.
When we learn to feed God’s hunger with our prayers, we also learn to feed each other. If you love me, Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Prayer helps us to become manna for other people, as we provide bread for them both physical and spiritual. Through such prayer we come to imitate Jesus, learning to nourish others with our own flesh and blood, a second sacrament that makes real the body of Christ promised by the first. In this way our prayers bring about the resurrection, raising Jesus from the tomb of a church filled with people beset by spiritual death, and our prayers together, fed by the Eucharist, become a Eucharist for God, as we return to our maker the body and blood that gave us life. In that communion, our feast is indeed exalted manna, as we, rejoicing together, raise the bounty we have been given.