By: The Rev. Jazzy Bostock
In July, I celebrate my birthday – which, coincidentally, I share with my wife. Navigating the day is interesting – she is content to let it pass as a “normal” day, while I want a big celebration. And what is more celebratory than cake? So, though I am NOT a baker, this year I decided on one thing: I was going to make a birthday cake. Cake is rich, over the top, fun food. It’s celebration food. Cake feels special to me.
So, you can imagine that the story in 1 Kings is one of my favorites. Elijah is travelling into the wilderness, after he has gone through a huge trial. He’s proven that God is God, in a sort of competition among prophets. All the prophets of Baal have been killed, and Jezebel sends a message to Elijah that he will be next. He must be exhausted – his energy spent on this major showdown, and his spirit weary from the stress.
Fearing for his own life after hearing Jezebel’s threats, he journeys into the wilderness, sits down beneath a tree, and asks God that he might die. Now, this may seem odd for someone who has just won such a huge competition and proven himself in battle so well. But I think the exhaustion simply overcomes him. Even after winning this huge fight, Elijah still isn’t in the clear. I wonder if he is realizing (perhaps for the first time) just how dangerous his career really is. I wonder if he is questioning God because of how much is required of him.
He lays down under the tree and falls asleep. He sleeps for a while, then an angel comes and touches him and tells him to get up and eat. Such simple, timeless wisdom: take a nap, and eat a snack. Have a glass of water. Elijah gets up and sees that there is a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. Can you imagine?
Now, I don’t mean to speak ill of manna – that powdery white stuff which kept God’s people alive in the wilderness so many centuries ago – and if Elijah had been offered manna, this story would still be miraculous. But, how much more beautiful—how much more sustaining—to be offered cake? Elijah wasn’t just given exactly what he needed to stay alive; he was given more than enough. He was given something rich, and dense, and celebratory.
The difference between cake and manna is like the difference between a home cooked meal and drive through. The drive through does the job. Manna has calories, and it will sustain those in need. But a home cooked meal, with a set table, on real plates, with the kind of food that fills the house with aroma and is eaten slowly so it can be savored—that kind of food feeds so much more than the stomach. That kind of food feeds the soul.
When the angel gave cake to Elijah, his soul was being nourished. And Elijah didn’t just have cake once. The whole scene repeated itself. This time, the angel gives some foreshadowing – “Get up and eat,” the angel says, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” This nourishment is a gift given to Elijah freely by God, and it propels him forward. The nourishment Elijah receives from these two pieces of cake sustain him for forty days and forty nights.
I love this story about Elijah, because it reminds me that our God doesn’t just give us manna; our God also gives us cake. It reminds me that when I feel low, or like I can’t go on, God offers sustenance and nourishment richer than I can imagine. It reminds me that when I am exhausted, I should take a nap, and have a snack.
This story also reminds me that when I am given nourishment, it is never supposed to be just for me, but for the life of God’s people. Elijah is sustained by this cake, and journeys onward to Horeb, where he receives confirmation in his calling as a prophet, and is sent back to serve God’s people. The nourishment God gives is not just comforting, it calls us onward, into the future.
Perhaps, in this moment, you are struggling with self-doubt. Perhaps you are exhausted, or wearied from your trials. Perhaps you just had a peak, or a triumph, but you are left depleted. If that sounds like you, take heart, for God offers cake to your weary soul.