Poor Elijah must really have been having a bad day.
It’s hard to tell from this short passage what has been going so poorly for this great hero and prophet that he is ready to curl up and die. It might be helpful to remember that we are joining Elijah in the middle of his story. This part of his story started with a great contest between Elijah, the prophet of the God of Israel, and the prophets of the Canaanite God Baal, imported by King Ahab of Israel along with his Canaanite wife, Jezebel, who incidentally gets all the blame for the king’s behavior. The contest ends with a victory for Elijah, in which God sends fire from heaven in answer to his prayer. To the victor go the spoils, so Elijah then kills all 400 of those Canaanite prophets—he was a warrior prophet after all—and the king and his queen are understandably angry and so have been pursuing Elijah, which is how we find him under the broom tree.
Elijah is running away, and with good reason. He’s probably a bit angry with God, too, since he is suffering for doing what God told him to do. He’s at the end of his rope, and he’s ready to throw in the towel.
How you ever felt like Elijah? Have you ever felt like running away? Maybe you did. Did you ever get angry when what you felt like was the right thing to do blows up in your face, or when you had to face the consequences of something you have done? Maybe you know what it’s like to be angry with God. Maybe you’ve also been ready to throw in the towel, like Elijah. What was that like for you?
Which brings us to today’s story: Instead of letting Elijah die, God sends a rescue mission. There is an angel and miraculous food: bread and water, enough for a 40-day hike. God still has plans for Elijah; there is more to his journey. And so Elijah gets up and goes on his way, knowing more or less where he was going—but maybe not what for.
Have you ever experienced your own angelic intervention, your own messenger from God to encourage you? Maybe someone knew just what to say at just the right time. What has sustained you in your own wilderness times? Maybe you have discovered strength to get up and carry on, even knowing that there was still a long road ahead. What was that like for you?
There is an end of a sort to Elijah’s story: He arrives at Mount Horeb, where he experiences God in a most unexpected way: not in a great wind, not in an earthquake, not in a fire, but in the sound of sheer silence. And in that experience God reveals to Elijah the prophet’s purpose, and gives Elijah his marching orders for his work. It’s a turning point for Elijah—a new moment of clarity.
Have you had a moment like that, when things finally make sense, or you begin to see more clearly the road you have been traveling or even the purpose of your journey? Maybe you had your own silent moment with God, when you realized you had never really been alone, and all along God was drawing you to where you belong. Maybe you discovered guidance for your next steps. What was that like for you?
Which brings us back to how we get from here to there, how we go from wandering or fleeing to following where God is leading you, how we go from desperate and exhausted to nourished and ready to travel, how we come to arrive at the place where God wants us, so we can experience our own moment of clarity. What is the food that sustains us in all those moments, the same food that nourished Elijah?
Jesus proposes in the gospel that he is that food, that feeding on his wisdom, in the community of his followers, feeding “on him,” is the nourishment that God sends. From the beginning of the church we Christians have seen in this eucharistic banquet that food, food for runaways and wanderers, food for the desperate and exhausted, food for those on their way, food that can sustain us to the end. This food not only satisfies our hunger, it is also the sign of God’s own hunger to nourish us, the same manna the fed the Israelites in the desert, the same food that sustained Elijah, the bread that Jesus shared with those who followed him. It’s the same bread.
To eat this living bread is to join our story to their stories, and the story of all God’s people. All of our stories of running away, of wandering, of finding the road, of discovering God's place in our path join Elijah's and the Israelites and Jesus and his followers. In sharing in this bread, we are really fed by God just as they were and really participate in the story of God’s people, because our many stories become part of that story, too.
Even more, our sharing in this living bread creates us as the church, the people who feed on the living bread of Jesus, the people who share God’s hunger to nourish the world and to nourish each other on this long journey. And all of us, wanderers and runaways, searchers and those who think we know where we are headed, wherever we are on the way, we belong here, both to be fed and to feed each other.
What is it like to be a part of this church, to be a part of the story of God’s people, to be nourished here by Jesus, the bread of life, and also to share God’s hunger to feed others? What is that like for you?