1 Kings 19.4-8, Psalm 34.1-8, Ephesians 4.25-5.2, John 6.35, 41-51
The prophet Elijah has just been a part of a major victory of God’s. The God of Israel has been proven as truly powerful, truly real, the prophets of the god Ba’al have been put to shame. Yet this victory has put Elijah in great danger. Queen Jezebel has threatened to have him killed. And so today, we pick up with Elijah, fleeing for his life, into the wilderness, and finally exhausted, collapsed beneath a tree, ready to just die. As the text says – “wanting in the worst way to be done with it all.”
Now, most of us have probably never had to escape for our lives. Most of us are not called to be prophets in the way that Elijah was. But we’ve very likely been right where Elijah is in our reading today. We’ve been to the wilderness. We have wanted in the worst way to be done with it all. We have been taken over by hopelessness and confusion. We have battled depression and cancer and great loss. We have wanted so much more for our children, our aging parents, our friends for whom life never seems to go their way. We doubt ourselves, our strength, and our will to keep moving forward. We’ve been to the wilderness. We know the darkness, loneliness and bitter cold that it is.
And who comes to Elijah in his wilderness? An angel, shaking him awake to tell him to get up and eat! To taste and see!
(sing refrain of hymn)
To Elijah, in the midst of the wilderness, comes bread and water. We learn so much about God and the bread God provides in this part of the story. God doesn’t send a messenger, an angel, to say to Elijah, just a few more miles, and there will be bread –a reward for the journey. God doesn’t bribe or cajole Elijah in this wilderness experience. God comes to Elijah right where he is, comes to us right where we are, to bring us strength when we need it. God and God’s bread come to Elijah un-asked for, he has already given up. God is persistent with Elijah, this is the third time bread has been provided for him – once by ravens and once, miraculously, with the widow of Zarephath. The bread and water come with rest and encouragement. All of these truths about the bread God provides – it meet’s us right where we are, gives us rest and strength, it is persistent. These things are all true when we are gifted with the living bread from heaven. This living bread comes to us as Jesus, inviting us to Taste and See!
(sing refrain of hymn)
The bread provided to Elijah had a purpose, to give him strength for the journey ahead. He was on his way to Mt. Horeb, which is another name for Mt. Sinai. Elijah has been a faithful prophet, but the circumstances are difficult to say the least. He was being hunted in Israel, and all the holy places there had been desecrated by worshipers of Ba’al anyway. Where was there left to meet God other than the place of the burning bush and the 10 commandments? The bread strengthens Elijah in his journey back to the one who can provide true peace and comfort.
When we come to the table of communion, when we taste and see, what journey are we being strengthened for? Elijah knows he is going to Mt. Horeb to find God, but once he arrives, God’s appearance is not as Elijah expected. Perhaps we don’t know the details of where our journey will lead, but we can’t go wrong when we are journeying toward God. Some journeys we go on alone, some together with our families, some together as a community in Christ like this one here.
God’s presence with and provision for Elijah tells us that no matter where we end up – even when we are at the end of rope, ready to be done with journey, God will provide strength. This story is a reassuring upending of the popular cliché “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Because clearly, people get more than they can handle all the time – just look at Elijah under the broom tree. Instead, God helps us handle what we’ve been given. And life can give us an awful lot. In the face of all of that – God says, Taste and See!
(sing refrain of hymn)
This psalm we have been singing from is a psalm of great praise! And indeed, our faith, our God, our living bread from heaven gives us great reason to shout with joy from the rooftops. But our faith, our God, and our living bread never denies the deep sadness of life. We will taste and see many things in our lifetimes. Sometimes what we taste is bitter and what we see is ugly. Life is filled with the sour and messy, even rancid and evil. But when we taste and see the goodness of the Lord, we taste sweetness and see the face of Jesus. When we taste and see the goodness of the Lord, we taste love and see God with us. When we taste and see the goodness of the Lord, we find it is far more powerful and overwhelming than the stale taste evil would like to leave in our mouths.
God gives us living bread to taste and see, not so that we can deny our deepest sadness and times in the wilderness, but as a response to our hopelessness under the broom tree. Because God has been under the broom tree as well. Jesus cried from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” But Jesus also, just days later, prepared breakfast for the disciples on the beach, walked with them to Emmaus to break bread together. And with the words “Taste and See”, the disciples’ eyes were opened to the goodness, the resurrection and new life that is the Lord. Let us stand together to sing our hymn of the day.