The children of Israel gather on the plains of Moab. To the West lies the Jordan River and beyond that the land that had been promised by God to their forefathers. It was the fabled land flowing with milk and honey, the land that they had but heard stories of and now there it was spread out before them, ready for them to possess it. 40 years ago their parents stood overlooking the land as well, at that time they refused to enter; they saw the fortified cities and well-armed men and doubted the promises of Yahweh. This is their second chance, now is their time, now they must enter the land and possess it.
Yet in those 40 years not much has changed in the land there are still people living in it, it’s not like God gives them an uninhabited promised land, it is a land where they must drive out those already living there. This means that to enter the land, to live and multiply in it will require a great amount of sweat and turmoil; it will be years of battle and constant opposition. This is the reality that faces them as they stand there on the plains of Moab. This then is a major turning point for the children of God, a moment in time where they contemplate a transition from a nomadic life to a life of permanence in the land.
Quite often in our own lives we face transitions. Perhaps they aren’t as great as entering into the Promised Land but they are transitions none the less. Maybe it is a transition from work to retirement, or from having children around the house to being an empty-nester. It could be from single to married, or no children to children, from one job to another, from one school to another. Our lives are made up of transitions that are important to us. They carry with them a certain amount of weight and concern. When we face transitions in our lives we often take stock of all the pros and cons we try and decipher what will be and how it will all play out. Some of us do this fairly easily for others it is a painstaking task. But we all have a process to navigate our transitions.
The Lord says to his people that what they need to do is look backwards; they need to look behind if they are to go forward. He says, “Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness… remember the manna… remember how your clothes did not wear out… remember that even though you were disciplined you were disciplined as a as a man disciplines his son” (Deuteronomy 8). Before they go forward they are reminded of the past of the way in which God had provided for them. Sure they remember the hardship but they remember that he never left them, he never abandoned them, he saw them through it all. They remember the character of God, a God who had chosen them and loved them.
And so as we fret about the future, as we try and calculate our next move and the best possible direction, we too ought to look back. And when we look back what is it we see? When we examine our own lives do we see the character of our God? Do you see the times he has fed you’re the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins? Do you see how time and time again even as his law condemns you for your failure he then turns to speak of life and hope and forgiveness? Do you see how he has washed you and made you his own in the water of Holy Baptism?
We go forward, not just in times of transition but every single day, we go forward as his children by looking back. We go forward trusting in his promises because we look back and remember what he has already done. We look back and we see an infant God crying out in the manger, a child who is called Jesus for he will save the people from their sins. We look back and we see our Lord becoming our sin, being judged in our place and embracing a cross that rightly belonged to us. We see our God pay our debt. We look back and we see and empty tomb, we see a victory over sin, death and the devil.
We remember a God who did such great things and we remember that ours is a God who still does them! This then, this remembering, this retrospection is at the heart of our Thanksgiving. For we know that were we stand right now, in whatever situation faces you, in whatever trial that has been laid before you, you go forward as one who has been washed and fed and loved by God. One who has been died for and forgiven. We go forward each and every day covered in his grace just as it has always been!