Elijah thinks he’s really had it in this reading. Ahab is going to kill him, and if Ahab doesn’t, the wilderness will. He’s terrified, he has left everything, and run until he can’t run any more. This is it. His prayer is that he will die. But then food appears. And so Elijah eats, even though he has said he wants to die. The offering of a tiny bit of hope is enough to feed the desire to live, the desire to survive, the desire to carry on. Two lots of food and Elijah is ready to move again, ready to see where God will lead him next.
That desire to live is so strong. It’s what keeps us safe, it’s what keep us going when living seems to be so hard. As Christians, we live by hope. Our hope comes through Christ. We see it in the action of the Spirit day by day, in the work of the Creator in glorious sunsets, we receive it in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But the flip side of that is our response when we can’t find the hope any more. I’d like to write that it is when we are at our weakest that we rely most on God. But it doesn’t always feel like that, does it?
I thought Maggi’s advice to her stressed students was wise. “Eat, drink and sleep”. Perhaps that’s how we help those who are in the wilderness, help them to to look after their own physical wellbeing, and then, once they are refreshed, consider how to help them hope. I suspect that in the act of ensuring physical wellbeing, we convey a smidgeon of hope – and then God does the rest. “Love your neighbour” may well mean “feed your neighbour”, “give your neighbour a drink”, “allow you neighbour to rest”. Granting safe space and refreshment is the most basic hospitality we offer. And in doing so, we are the hands and feet of a God who loves us.