Ever since she was a teenager, my sister has had a working theory that where there are tents, there is cake. One weekday afternoon when we were in college, she put that theory to the test. Lisa and her friend, Courtney, were driving past the local NBC affiliate, WGAL. The building is on the edge of Lancaster city and sits up on top of a grassy hill. Atop the hill, at the end of a long driveway, they noticed a large white tent, the kind you might rent for a wedding reception. Instantly, they both knew, there was cake up there. So, they turned around, headed up the hill, and lo and behold, there was cake. They each grabbed a piece and went on their way. To this day, I have no idea why there was cake in that tent. Was it a private retirement party or a community outreach event? I don’t know. All I know is that 20 years later, Lisa still firmly believes that where there are tents, there is cake.
Cake is an interesting food. It is most often used to mark happy occasions like weddings, baptisms, and birthdays. Sometimes, like here at Christ Church today, cake can also be used to mark sad occasions, like at a going away party. Whether you believe Marie Antoinette once flippantly said “Let them eat cake” and caused the French revolution or not, cake has a long history that could possibly date all the way back to paleolithic caves nearly 32,000 years ago. Like most things with a long history, what we call cake today looks nothing like the first cakes created way back when. Ancient cakes were designed with two goals in mind, first to last a long time without spoiling and second to provide as many calories and nutrients as possible. Flour, honey, water, nuts, and fruit were combined to provide long-lasting energy for the difficulties of ancient life. Though, I suspect any paleolithic cave dweller would have given good money to eat a cake that gave them energy for forty days and forty nights, but that’s exactly what our lesson from First Kings says happened to Elijah.
Elijah’s cake was definitely a sad cake. Our story begins with Elijah so tired and so depressed that he sat down underneath a scrubby broom tree in the desert and asked that God might take his life. If you think this is a strange way to start a story, you’d be correct. We’ve missed some pretty important details. It all begins more than three years earlier, at another cake serving event, a wedding. Ahab, the King of Israel, married Jezebel, the daughter of the King of Sidon and immediately began to worship her god, Baal, instead the Lord, the God of Israel. First Kings says that Ahab did more to provoke the anger of God than all the kings before him. Because Baal was the god of storms and fertility, the Lord appointed Elijah to prophecy to Ahab that a drought would ravage Israel for three years.
After delivering this word to Ahab, Elijah high-tailed it to the other side of the Jordan River where he lived on bread and meat brought to him by ravens until the water dried up. From there, he travelled to the city of Zarephath in Sidon, where he met a widow who fed herself, her son, and Elijah from cakes – there it is again – made from the last drop of oil and handful of flour that she had left for months and maybe even years on end. After three years of drought, during which Ahab and Jezebel angrily and systemically killed almost all the prophets of God, the Lord sent Elijah back to Ahab where he again prophesied against the sin of Ahab and challenged the prophets to Baal and the prophets of Asherah, the consort, or wife, of Baal to a battle of the gods.
Here’s where things get interesting. 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah met Elijah on Mount Carmel. The terms of the battle were simple: the god who brought fire to the sacrifice would be considered the true god. So, the prophets of Baal and Asherah picked their bull and Elijah picked his. The prophets prepared their altar and from morning until noon danced around it, calling on Baal to hear their prayer. There was no answer. Elijah mocked them saying, “Cry louder, maybe your god is meditating or sleeping.” They yelled all the louder as they cut themselves with swords and danced from noon until sunset, with still no answer. So, Elijah took his turn. He prepared the altar, just as the prophets of Ball had, but he also dug a trench around the altar. Elijah added twelve jars of water to the bull and to the wood. There was so much water, that the bull and wood were soaked, and the trench was filled. Elijah called out to the Lord his God and immediately fire rained down from heaven. It consumed the bull, the wood, the altar, the dust, and even the water in the trench was gone. It was clear whose God was real, and the prophets of Baal were put to death, as was the punishment for false prophets.
Upon hearing of the humiliation of their prophets, Jezebel and Ahab vowed to kill Elijah, and so he fled a day’s journey into the wilderness where he sat down under a broom tree, exhausted, afraid, and hopeless; asked God to take his life, for it would be easier than what was to come; and fell asleep. Having been fed bread by the ravens and cakes by a widow, not much could surprise old Elijah, but what happens next must have made him wonder. As he slept, and angel came and prepared, you guessed it, a cake, baked on hot stones. “Get up and eat,” the angel said. So, Elijah ate and drank, and then fell back asleep. Again, the angel said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” So, he ate and drank again, and the cake sustained him for a forty-day journey from Mount Carmel to Mount Sinai where Elijah became one of only a handful of people who got to experience the very presence of God and live.
Every Sunday, and hopefully more often than that, in the Lord’s Prayer we pray that God might give us our daily bread. Last Sunday, we heard the story from Exodus where God provided manna, a flaky substance that was full of nutrients and gave the Israelites energy for the journey. Sometimes, daily bread looks like that. In the story of Elijah, even amidst a great drought and famine, God sustains the prophet with cake. It might not have been a Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge Cake with Creamy Chocolate Buttercream icing, but it was substantial enough for the journey ahead. Sometimes, daily bread is a cake that carries you for 40 days. Later this morning, as a community of disciples, we will share cake with Laura Goodwin as we wish her well on the next phase in her life’s journey. Over the last 12 years, this community has shared a lot of cake, cookies, and crawfish with Laura, but through the grace of God, these last pieces will sustain our relationship with her, despite the distance that is to come. And sometimes, daily bread is like that, the reminder of our fellowship in Christ.
Since the start of the pandemic and the months’ long suspension of Holy Eucharist, I’ve learned not to take God’s daily bread for granted. In fact, as things seems to be ramping up again, I’m more committed than ever to not just simply seek out daily bread, but to be on the lookout for those places where God is looking to give me the gift of cake to sustain me for the work ahead and to remind me of the love we share in Christ. I hope you will join me in looking for God’s daily bread in all its forms, for the journey is long and only seems to be getting longer, and I firmly believe that God’s sustenance and community in Christ are the keys to survival and success. As we journey together, don’t forget to keep your head on a swivel and your eyes wide open, for where there are tents, there is cake. Amen.