What day is Thanksgiving?

Elijah didn’t get a turkey and stuffing. There was no cranberry sauce, no mashed potatoes, no perfect pumpkin pie. His table in the wilderness was set simply: with a bit of bread and some water. But this year, when I think of Thanksgiving, it’s Elijah’s story that perfectly captures the spirit of the holiday.

Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 19 doesn’t initially look like it’s going to end very well. After slaying the prophets of Baal—the false god—Elijah fled for his life. There was an angry queen swearing revenge, and Elijah was ready to give up. In the wilderness, he sat down under a juniper tree and told God he was ready to die.

But instead of death, God gave Elijah the gift of life. Twice Elijah fell asleep. And twice, when he woke up, there was a little baked cake and a vessel of water. It doesn’t sound like much, but the nourishment sustained Elijah for 40 days and nights. There weren’t any leftovers—but he didn’t need them.

I wasn’t thinking of Thanksgiving earlier this year, but I was thinking about Elijah. I felt like I could relate to his moment under the juniper tree. A project I’d been heavily involved in seemed to be failing. No funds, no clear route for the future. I didn’t want to die, of course, but I felt a crushing weight of disappointment and despair.

So where was my cake baked on the coals? Where was my cruse of water? I’d often turned to stories like Elijah’s in times of dire need, but this time, when Elijah’s experience sprang to mind, it kind of made me mad.

“Well that’s just great,” I thought. “I’m glad God cared enough about Elijah to conjure a meal out of thin air. But that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to regular people. It definitely doesn’t happen to me.”

As I prayed, though, and then prayed some more, the story persisted. I wasn’t getting any other messages from God. It was Elijah and his cake and cruse—ad infinitum. Finally, I listened. Finally, I looked at the story. Finally the words hit me:

“And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.” 1

I felt like I woke up in that moment—just as Elijah had. The bread and the water, I saw, were there for Elijah when he woke up. When he opened his eyes to God’s presence—in spite of his despair and disillusionment. And I saw that the same angel that had awakened Elijah and told him to arise had also already been by my side—encouraging me to lift up my own consciousness to see God’s abundance and care.

It wasn’t a question of would I lift up my thoughts. I yielded to that message of “arise” immediately. And just like that, the despair and fear left. I felt gratitude welling up in me. It wasn’t gratitude for anything I could see, and it wasn’t because of any outward change in circumstances. It was because I felt so convinced that God had been there all along, offering me that blessed bread and water—whatever sustenance I needed—every time I needed it. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t in the wilderness. God was hosting Thanksgiving for me, and I was invited to fill my plate from that heavenly table each day. Just as Elijah had been.

The project—and my view of it—started shifting after that. I began noticing the little ways God had been caring for and sustaining it. But bigger things happened, too. Unexpected funds came in. The future, which had seemed so fuzzy, suddenly came sharply into focus. I felt new energy, new direction, new life flooding in and propelling us forward. But the best part was waking up each morning and “arising” to see the bread and water that I knew God had already tenderly prepared for me. The more I actively looked for it, the more concretely I saw it.

It might seem like Thanksgiving came early for me this year, but that’s not quite right. It’s more like this year taught me that God sets a Thanksgiving table for each of us, each day of the year. Wherever we are and whatever the need, we’re as beloved and tangibly cared for as Elijah. And for that, I give thanks.

by Jenny Sawyer


  1. I Kings 19:5.


  1. HB says:

    Thank you.

  2. Janell says:

    Love this mash-up of a Bible character I really like and my favorite holiday.

  3. Annette-D says:

    What a great reminder to open my eyes to the good God supplies me with every day of the year!  Thanks!

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