Approaching the fifth week of Lent, we engage our fifth and final element: fire. Like the other elements, fire has within its nature the potential to harm and destroy. To wipe out forests in a day. To raze homes and buildings in mere minutes. To burn animals’ delicate skin. To erupt and cover our planet with molten lava.
Perhaps, it’s mostly from our human perspective that fire seems so dangerous and destructive. And it’s true that fire takes human lives and has been used as a weapon of torture and capital punishment.
So, what does it mean to pray for the peace of the fire? Does it mean that we hope that fire is tamed, controlled, domesticated? Or does it mean our perspectives on fire will be changed?
Fire connects to this week’s lectionary passage in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, when Lazarus is raised from the dead. Fire is cleverly hidden in the passage – you have to look harder for it than in other weeks. It is certainly in the ground, the rocks and hills that make up the landscape of Judea. But’s it’s also in the stone that covers Lazarus’s grave, which is then pushed away in an act of life-giving. That stone, birthed in fire, delivered its own miracle on that day in Bethany – where once death was a final and unyielding citadel, with the stone as its sentry, the stone now abandoned its guard in a defiant act of resurrection.
So fire, too, becomes a witness and actor in God’s foolish love of shalom.
O God, our rock in a weary land,
we pray this day for the peace of fire.
We praise you for the fire of the sun,
warming planet Earth,
kissing the plants and waters and our bodies
with steadfast love.
We praise you for the fire of the earth,
creating land for land animals to trod on,
for towering mountains to behold,
and deep canyons to ponder.
We praise you for the fire of our hearths,
delighting us with feasts of holy communion,
where friendships blossom and laughter abounds,
and where, in the quiet crackling and dancing of flames,
our soul’s deep questions find illumination and new life.
May your Spirit, like tongues of fire, purify all hatred and fear,
inspiring this world to burn with life-giving peace.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Peacemaker. Amen.