by Father Mike Stubbs
In the early church, those newly baptized at the Easter Vigil were often given a mixture of milk and honey to drink.
This practice referred to the way the Promised Land was often described in the Bible.
We hear an example of that in Sunday’s first reading, Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15: “Therefore I (God) have come down to rescue them (the Hebrews) from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
This may strike us as a strange way to describe a land. The milk, however, would not be cow’s milk but, rather, goat’s milk. The honey would not come from bees, but instead was a syrup made from dates.
Consequently, the milk would stand for the raising of livestock and the honey would stand for the raising of crops — the two components of agriculture in this new land. The land was described as flowing with milk and honey, because it produced livestock and crops in abundance.
This sweet beverage given to the newly baptized is intended to give them a taste of the new life of grace they had received through baptism.
It pointed to the new experiences they would encounter in the church, and eventually in heaven.
They had left behind their life of sin, just as the Hebrews would leave their life of bondage in Egypt. They had passed through the rigors of Lent, just as the Hebrews would travel with much hardship through the desert to reach the Promised Land.
The early Christians saw a parallel between their spiritual journey and the journey of the Hebrew people in escaping slavery in Egypt to enjoying life in the Promised Land.
We can see a similar parallel for ourselves, especially now as we keep Lent. We join with the catechumens and candidates for full communion in their passage toward the Easter sacraments, to membership in the church and all that that promises.
The reading from Exodus describes Moses approaching the burning bush, from which God speaks. God promises to bring the Israelites to the land flowing with milk and honey, to freedom.
As we gather at the altar on Sunday, we recall God’s blessings given to us — above all, the gift of God’s Son Jesus Christ.
He is the one who brings us to the Promised Land of heaven, to freedom from sin.