All Saints Day 2020
A woman, hunched over, picks up some sticks, adding them to the bundle of kindling she holds tightly to her chest. She’s out of food. She and her son are hungry. Her husband has died, leaving them alone and exposed. Maybe the fire she makes tonight will be her last. Maybe she should stop tempting fate and just let the ravens take her and her son away to their eternal rest. She picks up a few more twigs and adjusts the bunch in her arms. They might as well be warm on their last night together, she thinks.
Then, a man emerges from the desert. His clothes are ragged, his beard is shaggy, he looks like he’s been out there for a while with only the wild animals to feed him. She clutches the sticks closer to her chest.
“Feed me, woman,” he calls out to her.
Of course, he would demand the very thing she doesn’t have- food. Her heart beats faster. What will he do to her if she doesn’t feed him? All she has left is what she planned to feed her son for their last night together. What do I have to lose? She resigns and replies, “I swear, I only have enough for my son and me. It’s all we have. We can’t feed you.” Her voice shakes.
The man responds, “Don’t be afraid of me. I’m not going to hurt you. Just make me a cake from the ingredients you have. There will be enough for you and your son.”
I don’t know why he thinks there is enough for me to feed him first. I just can’t. I literally cannot feed him. But what does it matter if we die tonight or tomorrow? I just can’t fight anymore.
The man wasn’t wrong, there was enough, in fact there was more than enough, the meal and the oil kept replenishing for the weeks that followed, and they were all fed for a while.
Now, the man hadn’t left yet and in fact had been staying with them when her son fell severely ill. The widow cried out to God, “Haven’t you taken enough from me? You took my husband away from me. You’ve left me alone to slowly starve to death and now you take my son, my only child, my everything from me? How much more do you want from me?”
The man heard the widow crying to God and came to her. She turned to him, angry, “You speak for him- the one who has taken everything from me. What more could you want? I have nothing left. What have I done to cause all of this horror to happen to me?”
The man, hearing her grief, goes before God on her behalf, “God! What is wrong with you? How could you possibly hurt this woman even more?! She has taken me in. She has fed me with what little she has. And now you’re allowing her son to die? God, no. Not today. Not this woman.”
And the man stretched out on the son three times and demanded that God would breathe life into this boy again. The boy gasped and sat up, confused. “What happened?” The man, relieved with tears in his eyes, took the boy down to his mother and said, “He’s alive.” Grateful to have her son returned to her, the woman hugged him tightly and said into his hair, “I get it now. You are a prophet and you speak the truth.”
The widow is no stranger to grief. She knows that Death leaves a jagged scar across the landscape, stripping away all that she knows, depleting her, threatening to take her down with it. She attributes this grief to the action of God. How could you do so much to me? What have I done to deserve this? As she mourns the loss of her husband, she mourns the loss of her life, the security he brought, and the food he provided.
Grief has this way of taking too much from us. It asks too much from us. It depletes our resources. It depletes our energy. Because, grief asks for too much. But God doesn’t cause this grief, instead God is in it with us, making sure we are never alone, even as we lose everything. God sits in the ash heap with us.
Elijah, running for his life because his calling has already proven to be risky, has signed up for a vocation marked by grief, fear, and scarcity. Unlike the widow, he had a choice in this. He chose to say yes to God’s call. The widow simply received the blows dealt to her by life’s circumstances. And God knows this. God knows that even though Elijah signed up for this, he is still scared, alone, tired, and depleted.
God knows that, like the Wadi Cherith, Elijah is running dry. So he leads him step by step through the wilderness, showing him that he will never be left alone out there in the desert, that he will always be fed.
And that’s what God does for us, too. God feeds us at this table of life. [or if baptism: God gives us new life through the waters of baptism]
There is a lush landscape awaiting us. The trees are strong and cool, providing shade from the sun that never goes out. The grass is soft and the breeze is refreshing.
And he is there, her husband, resting under that tree, in prayer or maybe meditation, sitting and receiving quiet peace. She walks up to him and they embrace for a blissful moment making up for the time he waited for her here. She’s a widow no more.
They walk over the hill, hand in hand, and see a very long table set before them expanding into eternity. On this table is an amazing feast of bright and fresh fruits and vegetables. Endless cheeses and loaves of bread are piled high. People are dressed in all patterns, skin of all tones, voices in all accents, calling excitedly to each other.
As they arrive at the table, they stand among the joyful crowd, and a song rises up,
With all the saints,
With the choirs of the angels and the hosts of heaven,
We praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, holy, holy Lord.
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
A strong and gentle voice breaks through their song.
He says, “Come and eat with us. Live with us here.
“I am wiping away every tear from your eyes. Death is no more. Mourning and crying and pain are no more. The first things have passed away. I have made all things new. To the thirsty I give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Taste and see that I am good. Come and eat, for all is now ready.”