Else the journey will be too much for you: A homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

elijahI don’t know if you’ve ever had a journey that has seemed just a bit too much. I’m talking about a physical journey. I have. I’m thinking about a bus I once had the displeasure of riding. I was crammed into this bus for a 12 hour trip to Washington DC. The bus was hot. And it was packed. My neighbor, not my favorite person in the world, and I were pressed against each other the whole time. I think he forgot to wear deodorant that day. The air conditioning did not work. And the driver was one of those types that is so concerned about making good time that he refused to stop. I had to pee for five hours. I had had enough.

My little story is trivial compared to Elijah’s of course. Elijah had had a rough go. In our first reading today he’s sitting in despair under a Jupiter tree. He was done with life. His journey had been too much for him, as the wordage goes. Of course things had been better. Rewind one chapter and you remember the story recounted there. Elijah won the dual with Ahab and Jezebel and had converted 450 people. You remember the story….Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and says: Look, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll both call on our God and whoever answers is the true God. Baal isn’t real so he didn’t answer. The Lord is real and he did answer. Elijah had been successful and had converted a good many people. He was on top of the world. But then we have the reading today, where he’s at the bottom of the world. Jezebel was not so happy as it turns out that Elijah had taken all Baal’s prophets away and vows to take Elijah’s life away. He withdraws in response, in a state of utter despair. That leaves us with today’s first reading.

Isn’t that our life too? We have days when everything goes great. The job is perfect, our co-workers are agreeable and our boss is nice. And life at home is just perfect: the kids listen and hug and share their whole lives. And then there are weeks at the bottom of the mountain. The kids slam their doors, the job just stinks and the marriage is on the fritz.

The journey of life has its ups and its downs. It can seem too much for us sometimes. And it is too much for us. Which is why we can say with a holy man I know, “Thank God we have God in our lives.” The journey is too much for us, but it’s not too much for God. Elijah is in despair, he had given up. But the Lord comes and tells him, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too much for you.”

“Else the journey will be too much for you.”

The Lord in his wisdom and in his power and in his love—he knows the journey of life is too much for us. So he stays with us. He calls us to get up and eat. And he gives us the food that makes it possible to keep going. He gave Elijah a piece of cake. I like cake. But he gives us something even better: the eucharist, the bread from heaven. Thank God for that.

The earthly journey can be too much sometimes. And so can the journey to heaven. I just want to say a word about something that confuses a lot of people. I want us to think about three things: The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, Viaticum, and the Last Rites. The Sacrament of the Sick is something we do whenever a person is seriously sick. Often we also do this before a surgery or after a traumatic health scare. We priests are always happy to do this. Viaticum is not the same thing. Viaticum is when we receive the Eucharist right as we are nearing death. It translates roughly to provisions for the journey or for the way. The idea is that we ought to, if we can, receive the Eucharist at this crucial moment when we are about to leave the world. That is to say, it is far better to leave this world with the strength of heavenly food of our Christ than to leave it alone. Those two things—Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum—are part of the Last Rites, but a confession is also part of what is traditionally called Last Rites as well. It is a happy thing to have a good death, so we ought to pray for that.

I want to end with these words from Pope John 23. They are words Elijah needed to hear, and words we do well to hear also when we feel like we’re close to death or stuck or when things just aren’t going our way. “Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible.” The journey of life, the journey to heaven—it can be too much for us. If we aren’t careful, we can let fears and frustrations and failure to press us down, in despair that the whole thing is just too much for us. But it isn’t with God. So thank God we have God in our lives. Thank God we have the Eucharist, the food for the journey. Else the journey would be too much for us.