I like the word BRAZIER. It’s one of the funky and arcane terms passed on in the King James Bible to describe a coal fire where people come to warm themselves.
We hear about such impromptu fires a few times in the Bible and I am wondering if people just carried around a little sack of coal with a flint and some fire-starter as if that was natural. Fire of course has some interesting connotations in the Bible. There was the fire of the burning bush, where Moses first encountered God. He knew this fire was different because the bush was not consumed. The thing that stuck with him, was the invisible presence which had followed his life, beckoned him, and was calling itself “I AM” by which to signal its inextinguishable nature.
FIre purifies but I’m not sure whether it’s the judgement, or the comaraderie that does it. People gather at a fire and they share deep thoughts they don’t generally air unless it’s late at night, when embers are dying down, and confessions begin. Fire has a way of doing that to people, it’s an agent of healing. Fire also cauterizes wounds in the most dramatic way, with more pain. But it stops the bleeding, and you will live.
My wife wants to make a burn pit in the back yard, from brick. A large and formal one with a poured concrete base, and room to sit in front. The burn pit requires some basic considerations: will it use gas or wood? Implicit in the structure, should there be a grill for cooking on top, and an area for an oven? Gathering implies food so that’s a yes. That people will come is a given, and there will likely be impromptu singing and storytelling.
The night Jesus was condemned, Peter was standing around a brazier. Drawn to the fire, he had to justify himself and he did it badly, by denying Jesus. It makes me remember that not every gathering is a savoury one. I am reminded of the first Psalm - “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful”. The psalmist warns us that we will become like the company we keep. As Peter denied Jesus, we will deny ourselves and we will be sorry. It’s a fire you will visit at least once in a lifetime.
As an appropriate bookend to Peter’s denial, there is another coal fire mentioned shortly after Jesus’ death. The fishermen knew something was afoot because they had fished all night without catching anything. A mysterious stranger on the shore called out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and lacking any better option, they do. The account in the book of John tells us they caught 153 fish without breaking the net, both details a fisherman might commit to memory. When they come to the shore, they are afraid to ask who the stranger is since he is apparently disguised. The mysterious visitor has a fire prepared for them to gather, dry off and warm their bones.
The scenario is not a first. It happened once before when the disciples were first called. Jesus told them to cast their nets on the other side, and the miraculous great catch makes them understand that Jesus is more than an ordinary man. Peter immediately prostrates himself and acknowledges the inevitable: “Depart from me for I am a sinful man”. Jesus tells him “Do not be afraid”. He is called, irrespective of the fact that he would fail.
Remembering the miracle of the first great catch, the disciples know the stranger on the shore is Jesus. As they gather by the coal fire, Jesus calls Peter to account in front of the others. He is asked three times “Do you love me?” The question is an opportunity for Peter to take back the three times he had publicly denied Jesus. He is given the chance to finish well.
We are in the season of burn pits and braziers and fallibility otherwise known as fail-ability. We will inevitably fail, it is written in our DNA. Still, people will gather around fires that heal, that speak of eternity and things of the heart. They will think over all the times they messed up but the warmth and the camaraderie will rejuvenate them with a second life. There is an unspoken grace that comes with a fire. Just as we protest, “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man” we are called back to that sacred fire, and given new promise. “Do not fear. For I am with you to the end of the age.”