In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. Exodus 15:13
THERE is nothing ordinary about time. It is created by God and therefore holy, yet though it becomes our enemy due to sin, Jesus redeems time by entering into it. In the church's worship all the events of salvation history past, present, and future converge on this hour, so that along with St. Paul we can truly say, "Behold, now is the time of God's favor, behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)
This being the case, we should not pass too quickly over Holy Scripture's many references to time. We learn from St. Mark, for example, that our Lord was crucified about the third hour, which corresponds roughly to nine o'clock in the morning. We learn also that from the sixth to the ninth hour (from noon to three) thick darkness covered the land before the Firstborn of God bowed His head in death for us.
This corresponds to the final plagues that forced Egypt to let go of God's people. The second last was thick darkness covering the land, which was followed by the death of the firstborn of all in Egypt, from Pharaoh's firstborn, to the lowliest slave, even of the cattle. There was no house untouched by death; no home, that is, except the Israelite ones whose doorposts were painted with the blood of the Passover lamb. All this was prophetic of what happened on the cross. As Israel was liberated from Egypt's cruel bondage, so we by the Lord's ultimate sacrifice are freed from the death-grip of the Evil One, who wishes to have us as his slaves in a world of his own without end. Nothing is worse than that! However, as today's Collect states, this is what we merit by our wrongs, so the worst mistake you can make is to dismiss the ten commandments and conform your life to the dictates of the blind culture. That is an error which cannot be repaired when it comes time for judgment, but it can be repaired now by all who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit who was poured out "at the third hour" of the day. You are those people.
Yes, time is sacred. Christ redeemed it by His death and took away its curse by giving us an indestructible life like His own, one that time cannot touch. What a blessing that is as we consider the clock that, whether awake or asleep, never stops ticking. The time to repent is running out. Judgment is coming. Jesus is coming. We all have an expiration date. We all have an appointment at the judgment seat of Christ, but because we are cleansed of our sins by the Judge's own death these are no threat to us if we hold fast to the Gospel, unless we have believed in vain.
In recognition of such a great salvation the church, from her beginning, marked the various hours of each day and sanctifies them with beloved liturgies. We have two of them in our hymnal, Matins and Vespers, by which we hallow those times even today, and which are at least partly based on today's text, "In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp."
This is a reference to the events that took place immediately following Israel's exodus from Egypt. Though the people had seen the LORD perform amazing feats of salvation, they lived in constant fear, and they were not quiet about it. The word we regularly encounter is grumble, which means to complain. It's used so often that we can't help but wonder if Moses was not making a point; if he was not warning the church against this sin and telling us to trust God and be grateful instead. Israel saw the LORD rain down terror on Egypt, open the red Sea before them, drown the Egyptian army behind them, and turn bitter water sweet by a piece of wood that symbolized baptism and the cross, but still they did not believe.
Although they were faithless, God is faithful! He did not leave or forsake His people but loved them, cared for them and nurtured them. He gave them quail to eat every evening, and every morning He rained down bread from heaven. All this in a place otherwise uninhabitable and devoid of commerce, field or farm whereby they could obtain the necessities of life. They had to rely on God directly and He came through for them every time, and He will do the same for you. Every hour of every day in every need, Jesus is your shepherd. You shall not be in want!
We could think of the quail as prophetic of the flesh of Christ who is the "evening sacrifice," who came "late in time," died late in the day and who calls thieves in the eleventh hour to be with Him in paradise; and we can think of the manna that appeared each joyous morning s the bread of the Eucharist of which we learn in today's gospel. As people grumbled against the LORD in the wilderness, so they did against Jesus as He unveiled this most blessed divine knowledge to men: that He Himself is the true bread come down from heaven, and that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood will pass right through the grave and live forever with Him in Paradise.
This was too much for the Jews who contended with Him; too much for the thousands who had eaten of the five loaves and two fish. We read in John 6:66 that many walked away at that point and would no longer follow Him, so the Lord asked the twelve, "Will you also leave me?" to which Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? For you have he words of eternal life..."
Time is sacred! This is why St Paul teaches the church to "redeem the time." We are doing that now. We do it as often as we worship; as often as we pray; as often as we perform the good works that proceed from faith, for these are not simply abstract "good works," but they too are worship because they proceed from faith and are as sacred as the time they redeem. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras