In his despair, Elijah takes refuge from the sun in the shade of a broom tree. (Some have suggested that this was the beautiful Retama raetam with white flowers.) Noticeably, in his depressed state, Elijah hides from the light. In fact, another biblical prophet prayed for death in the shade of a plant too (see Jonah 4:8). Shade, of course, is an essential survival tool in a hot desert, but Elijah’s shrinking away from the light might symbolize his shrinking away from God’s calling on his life.
After letting the prophet mope for a bit, the angel of the Lord taps him on the shoulder and commands him to eat. Note how “pro-life” God appears here. He is not willing to let his prophet die through voluntary self-starvation, but actually commands him to eat (1 Kgs 19:5) and provides him with a special meal (19:6). The meal consists of water and a round flat loaf of bread baked on hot coals. This is not an elaborate feast, but a simple affair. Yet this meal miraculously sustains Elijah for a forty-day and forty-night journey.
This meal is truly “bread for the journey,” one of the names for the Eucharist. Indeed, this is why we read this passage in conjunction with John 6, where Jesus describes the new “bread for the journey” which he will provide. Like Elijah’s bread, which took him from black despair to seek out the Lord at Mt. Horeb, the Eucharist can take us from the darkness of sin and empower us for the voyage ahead. If we lose sight of our purpose, get down in the dumps, or find ourselves wallowing in the shade of a broom tree, the Eucharist can bring us back to God’s plan for us. It can sustain us when we feel like giving up. (Read more.)