“You ungrateful wretch! I have done so much for you, and still, all you do is complain. You make me so mad I’m going to take you out to dinner!” This is something that no-one has ever said to me.
It is (paraphrased a wee bit) what God says to Israel in Psalm 78. Psalm 78 goes through all the ways that God led Israel from slavery to freedom and all the ways Israel complained about it. By time we get to verse 22, the sense is that something has broken. “When the Lord heard this, he was full of wrath; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and there flared up fierce anger against Israel.”
This is bad, really bad. And verse 24 sounds like judgment is on the way, maybe even something like the flood in Genesis 6. “So he commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven.”
But it’s not. God’s wrath is a strange wrath in Psalm 78. He doesn’t give his ungrateful people thunder, lightening and endless rain, he gives them dinner. “He rained down manna upon them to eat and gave them food from heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; for he sent them food enough.”
A couple of weeks ago I preached about how Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6 looks back to this moment when God feeds Israel in the wilderness and also forward to the Eucharist. Psalm 78 in its own way, forshadows the Eucharist as well. Here is how. Jesus is God’s gift to us. He is a gift we receive not because we have “been good,” but because we really and truly have been like Israel in the Exodus, ungrateful people justly under God’s wrath and judgment. We are at the end of the line. There is no hope and we deserve none. Yet, when God’s judgment falls, it falls on God’s son. And Jesus, for his part didn’t read humanity the riot act for the burden we gave him to bear, but offered us a meal “on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you’” (1 Cor. 11.23-24).
Each time we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, we are pronouncing God’s strange wrath on our sins, and participating in Jesus’ meal that incorporates us into the sacrifice that paid our sins’ price.
“So mortals ate the bread of angels; for he sent them food enough.”
The Rev. Peter Frank