11 Pentecost, Proper 14 -August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8 and John 6:35; 41-51
Jesus tell us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” We heard about Jesus as bread, as manna, last week too and it is Jesus’ metaphor for daily sustenance. We talked about the need for our spiritual bread, for Jesus, on a daily basis. Just as we need bread, or nourishment, to live our physical life on this earth, we also need spiritual sustenance, spiritual bread, the spirit of Jesus, on a daily basis to live our lives abundantly.
This morning we hear the beautiful story of Elijah as he is struggling in the wilderness, and sits under a broom tree, tired, giving up and asking to die.
What follows is one of the most gentle and tender passages in the Old Testament. Elijah awakens to the touch of an angel, who says to him, “Get up and eat.” When Elijah looks around, he sees that the angel has prepared “a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water,” for him to eat and drink. Elijah, still sleepy and despondent, nibbles and sips. But apparently not to the angel’s satisfaction. She rouses him again, this time with these words: “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
At her second invitation, Elijah again eats, and his strength is renewed. The story goes on to note that the prophet perseveres in his journey after he eats the angel’s cake. In fact, he’s able to endure for forty days and forty nights on the nourishment of that one meal.
Bread to carry. The angel feeds Elijah bread to carry. Bread for the road. Bread for hope. Bread for the long haul that is life. Or as writer Lauren Winner describes it, “the bread that sustains oppressed people on their journey through dangerous terrain.”
As Debi Thomas shares, “There is much to love in this story. I love that the angel prepares Elijah’s meal right in front of him as Elijah snores away, only rousing the prophet when breakfast is ready. I love that the cake is warm and fragrant from the hot stones. I love that it’s cake. More importantly, I love that the angel is persistent in her efforts to pull Elijah out of his depression — she wakes him up twice, and prods him until he eats the whole meal. I love that she touches him, communicating gentleness and empathy with her hands.
Finally, I love that the angel never minimizes or dismisses the difficulties of Elijah’s journey. She never says, “Buck up, Elijah; your situation isn’t so bad.” Or, “You’ve survived the worst of it, I promise; it’ll all be downhill from now on.” Or, “Once you eat what I’ve prepared for you, things will be smooth and easy.” Or, “What has happened to your faith? Your doubt is grieving God!”
No. She says, “Eat.” “Eat because the journey is hard. Eat because you won’t ever make it on your own. Eat because God longs to nourish you with food that will save your life.” The angel doesn’t spiritualize Elijah’s exhaustion, or deny his difficult reality. She doesn’t offer him a shortcut; the journey is his to make, and it can’t be sidestepped. But, she says, he can choose how he makes the journey. He can decide what condition he’ll be in when he embarks. Famished or fed. Strengthened or weak. Accompanied or alone. He gets to choose.
And so do we. What provisions do you carry on your life journey? What do you depend on for nourishment when the going gets rough? Do you recognize the angels God sends your way, their arms full of journeying bread? When they invite you to eat, do you accept their invitation?
In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus compares himself to manna, another ancient and powerful food source. Manna sustains the Israelites in their long wilderness, just as the angel’s cake sustains Elijah in his. And so Jesus desires to sustain us in ours, to be our journeying bread for every road trip, every perilous ride, every long haul, every rocky path. He desires to be our substance and our strength — not in some magical, cure-all way, but in ways that meet us in our real lives, our real challenges, our real fears and griefs and hopes. Because Jesus knows better than anyone that the journey is hard. He knows it’s too much for us to handle on our own. He knows we need bread that sustains. His bread. His flesh. [He gave up his physical body, his flesh, on the cross for our salvation. His bread,] “Given for the life of the world.”” So, dear Lord, help us to seek you daily, for it is only by your strength, your Spirit that gives life, that allows us to live, to truly live and journey abundantly in this world. So, let’s get up and receive the nourishment that is the bread of life, through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.