On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land… On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased;… the Israelites … ate of the yield of the land of Canaan. (Jos 5:11-12)
Canaan was an ancient land of the Near East most immediately east of the Mediterranean Sea. It is the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants (Gn 15:18-21). For forty years the Israelites journeyed toward this country, wandering in the wilderness while being led by Moses until his aide Joshua finally crossed the Jordan River (Jos 3:17) and brought the Israelites into this Promised Land. During their forty year sojourn in the desert the Israelites gathered up and ate manna, food which appeared miraculously each morning on the floor of the wilderness. Moses and Joshua had led the sons or tribes of Israel out of Egyptian bondage; a bondage that had begun only after the pharaohs had forgotten the good deeds and blessings brought upon Egypt by God through Joseph (Ex 1:8-10), the son of Israel and Rachel.
Once the Israelites crossed the Jordan River by the power of God, they began to eat of the fruit of their new land. This was a sign not only of the completion of their journey but also of the completion of their fast and abstinence in the desert, a forty year penance brought on by their own disobedience (Num 14:34). With the manna, God sustained the ancient nation of Israel throughout its moral and spiritual rectification. The manna was not only physical nutrition, but also salvific representation: a sign that God would sustain them and forge them into a unified nation in the midst of many trials. Further, that the manna ceased to appear in proximity to the first Passover feast celebrated in the Promised Land, indicates that it was the Passover, not the manna, which would be the future glory of Israel.
To better explain this notion we have placed on our bulletin cover another work by James Tissot for this 4th Sunday in Lent. This work, painted on wood board in gouache or opaque watercolor, is entitled, Gathering of the Manna (1896). The water base paint creates an image which close up looks more like an illustration for an action comic book; and this image is full of action: bodies leaning and twisting this way and that way, while the segmented dunes produce a deepening and distant artistic perspective.
Whether intended or not, this work is symbolic. The multiple colored striping of the dunes reminds us of God’s rainbow (or rather God’s promise) to Noah; but more suitably it recalls the “many colored coat” made by Jacob for his son Joseph (Gn 37:3). Proceeding visually from the banded background, we can see the Israelites moving away from the Josephic Egypt into the Mosaic Law (foreground) symbolized by (and allied to) the descendant manna. Yet in the middle of this scene stands a woman looking solemnly toward the future. She looks to the Passover still-to-come in Jesus Christ, the Bread from Heaven. She stands as a pillar of revelation, a sacred caryatid; a majestic or even Marian monstrance upholding the basket of the Bread of Life, our Most Beloved and Holy Eucharist.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services