Our theme for the month of October is “the elements.”
Moses stares at the bush. It’s burning—blazing, even—but it’s somehow not consumed. He takes his sandals off at that place, not ready to walk onto holy ground, not quite certain that he will not be consumed.
Elijah runs sweating in circles as he prepares the altar, gripped with Moses’ (Israel’s?) uncertainty but moving forward all the same. He watches as water pours over the altar, as it fills the trench he dug. He prays, and fire falls: all-consuming, complete, whole.
Isaiah trembles as the coal nears his lips. A chorus rings out around him, deafening: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The burning coal scorches his mouth; he is clean and purified, transformed into fire.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lay prostrate in a furnace heated to seven times its limit. Their bindings are singed away, but they remain untouched by the roaring flames. A presence fills the furnace, a powerful presence full of love and mysterious, unshackled and brimming with life. Nebuchadnezzar throws open the furnace doors and orders the three men out. But why should they go from this Presence?
Jesus sits on the banks of the Galilee as the waves lap the shoreline. He’s cooking breakfast over a charcoal fire—fish, to be exact, and a little bread. He invites the fishing disciples onto shore for a meal, and after they’ve eaten he asks beloved Peter three times: “Do you love me?” “Do you love me?” “Do you love me?”
The disciples are crowded into one place, reeling after the one they have followed ascended and, according to pattern, uncertain about what happens next. Suddenly, a sound like the rushing of a violent wind rips through the room, and it fills the entire house. Divided tongues of fire race around the room and settle on each of them, the presence of God in their midst, the fire of the Lord come upon them, the Spirit of their King with them at last.
We’re resting in our top-floor apartment, tired after a long week and weary in the promise of another one. Two candles burn: one in the kitchen on the counter, and another in the dining room. They flicker light throughout the apartment, which otherwise remains pretty dark. All of a sudden, these stories race through my mind. And I know I’ve read some things before, some things that I’ve not quite fully believed: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them” or “I am with you always, to the end of the age” or “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Still, these stories race through my mind while two candles burn.