Whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling,
the children of Israel would set out on their journey.
But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward;
only when it lifted did they go forward.
The prophets remembered the Hebrews' escape from Egypt and their forty-year sojourn in the Sinai desert as a honeymoon. In those halcyon days the Lord was clearly, visibly present with his people.
In the daytime the cloud of the LORD was seen over the Dwelling;There was no threat from enemies. Who would fight for ownership of an arid, lifeless desert? But God's people flourished there because He provided water from the rock, bread from the dewy earth and fowl from the sky. Even their sandals never wore out. If they were bitten by the vicious snakes that hid under the sand they had only to look upon the bronze serpent Moses had set on a pole to be cured. The women bore babies and the cattle grew fat.
whereas at night, fire was seen in the cloud
by the whole house of Israel
in all the stages of their journey.
Those were wonderful days.
It was especially easy to follow the Lord's bidding at that time because they followed the pillar of fire at night and the column of cloud during the day. If anyone trailed too far behind -- the conservatives who liked the old and familiar places -- they were lost in the desert. If anyone anticipated where the Lord might be going -- the liberals who thought they knew the future -- they too would wander off into irrelevance. But those who remained with the congregation, preferring the presence of God and one another's company, were never lost.
If the prophets remembered those days as wonderful, they also recalled the infidelities of their ancestors. The Hebrews grumbled a lot against God and against Moses. They were frightened easily, and they feared to enter Canaan and the Promised Land. When Moses seemed to have disappeared into the thunderous clouded obscurity of Mount Sinai, they fashioned a golden calf and worshiped before it.
With its stories about their confidence in God and their constant grumbling, the sojourn in the desert provided a template for the prophets and for us how we should love and obey the Lord.
In the New Testament, especially in the Acts of the Apostles, we read how readily Jesus' disciples followed the Spirit of the Lord. On that Pentecost Sunday they rushed out of the Cenacle to preach to the pilgrims who were filling Jerusalem. They were as surprised as anyone that they could speak all those different languages. The Lord provided for them!
Shortly after that, as Saint Peter and Saint John entered the temple one afternoon, they met a crippled beggar. Suddenly Peter was moved by a Spirit of Compassion. Rather than repress the urge out of self-consciousness, he took the fellow's hand and pulled him to his feet saying, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, [rise and] walk."
The New Testament, like the Old, also records the failings of the disciples, especially before Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. But there were lapses afterward too. Some Christians, clinging to their stuff, cheated the church and paid a heavy penalty. Saint Paul recorded his rebuke of Saint Peter and his feud with the "super apostles." Even that honeymoon period after Pentecost was troubled by many problems.
As we march forward into the third millennium of the Church, we trust the Spirit to be there with us and for us. Who knows but ten thousand years hence people will think we are now living during the Honeymoon of the Holy Spirit?
We pray for the courage to stay when he stays and move when he moves, neither lagging behind nor racing ahead, preferring always the communion of the saints and the guidance of God.