“Morning by morning they gathered [food], as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, he said to them, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” ’ So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. For six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.’
On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. The Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.”
A reflection on the sabbath and the pandemic
By Cora Glass
Back in March was the first time I’d ever considered if my pantry had enough stocked up to last me for two weeks. Never before was I required to think about my food security (what a sign of privilege!) Yet as our country began to respond the the COVID-19 pandemic, the advice was (continues to be) for each household to be stocked with two weeks worth of food – the time recommended for one to quarantine if you come in contact with the virus. People ran out to the stores determined to stock up on everything they could need (especially toilet paper). Soon the shelves were bare. It’s took a few weeks before the stores returned to a normal stock, and yet still I visit the store to find items missing or being rationed.
In this text from Exodus, the Israelites are wandering in the desert towards the promised land. They are testing God’s faithfulness to them, wondering if God will really get them to the land they have been promised. They are told that God will provide them enough food for each day; collect too much and the excess melts away. That is except on the day before the Sabbath when they are asked to collect two days worth of food. This allows them to rest on the sabbath day; to remember that their value rests in being the people of God and not upon the labor they do.
The first time I stocked up for two weeks, I learned very quickly what foods would melt away and had to be eaten first and which foods could linger longer. Another thing I learned is how accustomed I was to go on outings for food, whether the grocery store or a restaurant. Having stocked up for two weeks in one good left behind time that I would have otherwise spent “gathering” food. (This also helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 as it reduced the number of times and unique people with whom one has contact.) However, I was stuck wondering what to do with all this additional time. As a single person, wrangling children or managing new work expectations was not my reality as it was for others. What was the reality was often wondering “what now” as netflix asked if I wanted to keep watching, or my computer screen read “the host has ended this zoom meeting”, or my mind kept my body from falling asleep in the darkness of the night.
I wondering if the Israelites struggled with their own version of this question on those days when collecting and preparing food was absent – on the Sabbath day.
In scripture and today, wrapping our mind around taking Sabbath can be daunting. Even if we can understand the theology of taking a day to find worth in being created by God, it’s hard to wrap our mind around what’s acceptable to do on such a day. “What now?” In our productivity-driven culture, we want to DO Sabbath, yet God tells us that on the Sabbath day we should will be no doing, rather we should stay where we are.
In my own “what now” moments I have noticed that I’ve been more apt to just stay. To keep my gaze out the window for a few more moments, to let my mind wander for a bit longer, to rock a few more times on my rocking chair, to stay on my walk for another five minutes.
As George Floyd’s death became a public outcry, this pandemic space challenged me to stay longer in my feelings of guilt, in my research about racism, in my reckoning with my own white privilege.
Sabbath time challenges us to stay and while in the stillness to acknowledge that we are God’s beloved for no other reason than God created us just as we are.
And yet, until the final Sabbath day when God’s kingdom finds it’s place fully among us, the Sabbath day prepares us for the next week ahead. Where hopefully the heart work we did in the staying challenges our feet to a new way of walking.
Where do you resonate with the Exodus text during this unprecedented season? What does “staying” look like for you? How has your “staying” challenged you to wrestle with God, others, or yourself?