Some days are just… whole entire days.
A long time ago, when I was in high school and home from college, I was a server in the catering department at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville.
The last time I worked there was the summer after I graduated from college. And because it was the summer after I graduated from college, and because I needed the money, I worked a lot. I worked every day that there was an event to work; and twelve or fourteen hour days were not unusual.
One day, I was working an event for a small group—less than a dozen people—for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner.
Set up breakfast, serve breakfast, tear down breakfast, do dishes. Set up lunch, serve lunch, tear down lunch, do dishes. Set up dinner, serve dinner, tear down dinner, do dishes, go home.
And I was supposed to have help.
But… I did not so much. Some people flaked out.
So I set up breakfast, and served breakfast, and tore down breakfast, and did dishes… by myself.
And I set up lunch, and served lunch, and tore down lunch, and did dishes… with some help from someone who had come in to check the schedule and decided to stay.
And I set up dinner, and served dinner, and…
Dinner was in a room down the hall—a good distance from the kitchen—so I set up a bussing station just outside the door.
When it was time to clear the dishes, I walked into the room with a serving tray, and I took the dishes and put them on the serving tray, and I walked out of the room with the serving tray, and I set the serving tray on the serving tray stand… a maneuver that I had executed flawlessly a thousand times before.
But… this time… I did not so much. I missed, and the tray, and the dishes, hit the ground with a stunning crash.
But I kept my cool. I cleaned up the mess. I kept going.
And a little while later—around eight or nine at night—one of the assistant managers showed up to help me tear down dinner and do the dishes. And I went to her and said something like,
This has been a whole entire day. The other people on the schedule didn’t show up, and I’ve been almost entirely on my own and I broke a bunch of dishes. There just a little bit left to do: there’s just a little bit of tear down and some dishes. And I need to go home.
And she let me go home. Because some days are just whole entire days.
Elijah has had a whole entire… three years or so.
Last week, we heard about the time when King Solomon built a temple for the Lord. Well, after Solomon died, his kingdom—the united kingdom of all of Israel—split in two. And now there is the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the kingdom of Judah in the south.
In our reading today, it is a long time after Solomon. Ahab is the king of the northern kingdom of Israel; and Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, is his wife. And when Jezebel came to Israel, and into the house of the king, she brought her gods with her.
And Ahab began worshipping and serving Baal. He built temples and altars; he did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.
And when the Lord is angry, Elijah is angry.
Just yesterday, Elijah lost his cool. He challenged the prophets of Baal to a fight.
The prophets of Baal took a bull, and cut it into pieces, and laid it on pyre, and called on their god to provide the fire. They cried out for hours. But nothing happened.
Then Elijah took a bull, and cut it into pieces, and laid it on a pyre… and soaked it with water… jar after jar of water… until it was soaked and dripping and the ground around the pyre was drenched… and called on the name of the Lord.
And the fire of the Lord came down. It consumed the bull, and the pyre, and the stone, and the dust, and every lick of water.
And Elijah seized the prophets of Baal… and killed them. He slaughtered every last one of them.
And, a little while later, he got a message from Jezebel: you are so dead.
So now, Elijah is on the run and in the wilderness. He’s just collapsed under a tree. He is praying a prayer that you might know… he’s praying a prayer that we all sometimes pray… he’s praying the prayer that people pray when a day has been a whole entire day: couldn’t I just… die?
I’ll be honest with you: the last eighteen or nineteen or twenty months or whatever have been a whole entire… time.
We have been through a pandemic. We have watched and voted in contentious elections. We have seen fights over mask mandates and vaccines and whether Black lives matter and how we teach health and how we teach history and so. many. other. things.
And all of this has been fed by social media and legacy media that make money off of anger and argument. And it’s exhausting.
And a week ago or so, I read a letter that a colleague sent to her congregation. It was a public letter, and she wrote:
I was not feeling this way before last year—and I want you all to know, this is not your fault. Nearly every day since March 2020 has asked extraordinary things of all of us. Over time, that has simply taken a toll on me. My body, mind, and heart are increasingly finding ways to let me know I can’t keep going on, without attending to that toll.
And I want to be clear.
I am not feeling that way. The last eighteen or nineteen or twenty months have been stressful. I’m sure that the months to come will also to be stressful. But I don’t feel like I’m on a trajectory toward burnout; and I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
But I get it. I bet that some of you get it. I bet that some of you are even on that trajectory, racing toward burnout. I bet that some of us are having more days than we used to, when we just want to collapse under a tree and pray that prayer: couldn’t I just… die?
And I’ll be honest with you. That’s not always a prayer for death. Sometimes, that’s just a prayer for a day that’s not a whole entire day. Sometimes, that’s just a prayer for mercy. And that’s an important prayer.
Elijah has had a whole entire… three years or so. He’s on the run and in the wilderness. He’s just collapsed under a tree. He’s prayed the prayer…
…he’s fallen asleep.
And that’s when an angel appears… and gives Elijah a snack… and lets him take a nap… and gives him another snack… and takes him to Mount Horeb… and lets him get some more sleep.
Once Elijah is fed and rested—once Elijah has had a snack and a nap—the Lord asks him, “What are you doing here?”
And Elijah replies,
[TIMID AND EXHAUSTED AND FRUSTRATED] I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.
And the Lord invites him to come up the mountain. So Elijah goes up the mountain.
And there is a ferocious wind that splits mountains and breaks rocks. But the Lord is not in the wind. And that doesn’t mean that the Lord is never in the wind. The Lord just isn’t in this wind.
And there is an earthquake. And there is a fire. But the Lord is not in the earthquake and the Lord is not in the fire. And that doesn’t mean that the Lord is never in earthquakes or fires. The Lord just isn’t in this earthquake or this fire.
And then there is silence; and that’s where the Lord is. And that doesn’t mean that the Lord is always in silence. But sometimes…
And, again, the Lord asks him, “What are you doing here?”
[READY TO GO] I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away!
And the Lord says, more or less, “Let’s go.”
That day at the catering company was not my last day. I don’t remember exactly, but my guess is that I was back at work at six the next morning, or maybe the morning after that.
The truth is that, sometimes, what we need, more than anything, is rest. Sometimes, what we need, more than anything, is a snack, and a nap, and some silence. Sometimes, that is where we meet God. Sometimes, that is where we are restored to life.
My colleague who wrote that letter is, with the blessing of her congregation, taking some time. She’s taking a couple of weeks off. She’s going to a four day work week for a while. She’s slowing her pace, changing her trajectory, and returning to a more whole and healthy place.
And, when it’s time, she’ll return: fed and rested and ready to go.
And I know that she is privileged to be able to do that. I know that not all of us can.
And I know that it can feel like there is so much to do—like every day has to be a whole entire day; like it will all fall apart if we’re not there to hold it all together with both hands and a roll of duct tape—but… I will tell you, and Elijah will tell you, and Jesus will tell you, and God will tell you:
Rest is part of the work. Having a snack, and taking a nap, and noticing the silence is part of the work.
Maybe, sometimes, that looks like taking some time away. Maybe, sometimes, that looks like asking for help. Maybe, sometimes, that looks like taking a few minutes every day.
But here’s the thing:
Taking the time to rest is the opposite for praying that prayer. Taking the time to rest is the opposite of asking: couldn’t I just… die?
Taking the time to rest is asking God to restore us to life… so that we can come back to the work of repairing the world fed and rested and ready to go… so that we can do the work until everyone has enough to eat, and everyone has time to rest, and everyone can encounter the love of God.