Go Back or Go Deep
“The whole congregation of the people murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness . . . .” – Exodus 16:1-8
“Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full.” – Exodus 16:2-3a
Two choices: Go back to Egypt or go deeper with God, i.e., deeper into the wilderness.
Six weeks into the exodus out of Egypt, those were the options. The Hebrews’ first heady days of freedom quickly gave way to murmuring against Moses, They’d scarcely dried out from the Red Sea crossing when the fleshpots back in Egypt started looking mighty good. Who could blame them? They were thirsty, hungry, and wandering in a God-forsaken desert. Who wouldn’t want to go back?
Two weeks into Lent, we face the same decision. The first few days of fasting from alcohol or sugar or any other Lenten discipline are a piece of cake (no pun intended). By now, it’s no fun. Why not give it up and go back to the good old fleshpots?
Yet for us, as for the Hebrews, that’s not the way to new life. Moses tells the people that if they hang in with God, they will know it was God who brought them out of the wilderness, God who turned bitter water sweet, God who blessed them every day with bread and quail. In fact, if they don’t go back to the fleshpots of slavery but stay in the wilderness, they shall even “see the glory of God.”
So will we. Whatever your discipline this Lent, go deeper with God, which means deeper into your own hunger and your own deserts. As the Hebrews learned in their wilderness, it’s the only way to new life. “If sackcloth and ashes are at its start,” Frederick Buechner wrote of Lent, “something like Easter may be at the end.” Hang in there.
God, we know the temptation to go back to the fleshpots. Give us the strength to go instead more deeply into your new life. Amen.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Part 1 and Mark Part 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.