‘God Writes His Story in Fire: Memories of Holy Saturday’, by Joe Walker

This meditation is taken from ‘Felix Hominum‘, the blog of the late Rev. Joe Walker (1964-2011).

One of the most wonderful images which runs through God’s story is that of fire.  It is there in Genesis, and there again in Revelation.  On Holy Saturday we began our celebration with the “kindling of the new fire”.  I must confess that the Vigil of Holy Saturday is my favourite time of the year.  And not just because men like to poke fire with a stick (although we all do).  The evening begins with a visible reminder of one of the great images from God’s story:  fire.

Twenty seven centuries ago the prophet Jeremiah wrote a simple line, which has within it the key to all that we do here tonight.  “Is not my word like fire?, says the Lord”   Tonight we began with fire, and mark this well,  we shall end with fire also.  The story of God’s people is written in fire.

For the three days preceding Easter we heard again the story of redemption, from the story of Adam to the story of Christ.  We heard the story of bread and wine and transformation, we heard the story of suffering and sacrifice and death on a cross.  But on Holy Saturday we heard the story of fire. And as the invitation was given on Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, so the invitation is given tonight:  if you wish to understand the story of God, you must yourselves accept the invitation to become a living part of it.

“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord”

The Lord God placed an angel at the entrance of the garden of Eden, the paradise, and the angel held a flaming sword, which prevented Adam & Eve from returning.  None could return there, to that place of innocence.  “Paradise was lost”.  Lost, it seemed, forever.

What became of that flaming sword, which guarded the entrance to Paradise?  Do you not remember how Christ was pierced with that sword too? And he has this time, wholly swallowed it up in his side. And out of that side, the soldier saw, flowed blood and water:  the blood of the new covenant and the waters of baptism and new life. And then Christ declared: This day you will be with me in paradise!

Is not my word like fire, says the Lord?

Remember the old fire which Abraham carried to the offering of his son:  “Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  And Abraham replied:  The lord himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering”

“The fire and the wood are here.”  Did you not hear of the fire and wood when he was crucified?  When the burnt offering of the lamb was fashioned upon the wood of the cross, and he was held there not by the cold steel of the nails, but by the hot fire of love?

Is not my word like fire, says the Lord?

What is this?, Moses said.  The bush is burning, but it is not consumed?  Remember the fire of Mt Sinai, Mt Horeb, when God appeared to us in the burning bush.  For then we could not approach.  He commanded us to stand far off, it was not permitted us to walk on holy ground.  And when the Lord God led them out of slavery into redemption, he went before them with fire:

The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.

Is not my word like fire, says the Lord?

And John the Baptist, the last of the old prophets and the herald of the new Messiah, said to them:  “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”   The one more powerful has come, and he is Jesus, the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and he brings Fire with him.  Not the old fire, from which we kept our distance, lest we be consumed by it, but the new fire, which the prophet Malachi saw from old:  the fire which shall refine my people, and purify them as silver and gold – the fire of God’s cleansing found in the new baptism.

Now the new fire of Holy Spirit bids us draw near with faith; and he who calls us says you are no longer merely servants, but friends of the living God.

“As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.”  Elisha watched as Elijah, the greatest of the old prophets, was swept up by the chariot of fire – the fire which rose up to heaven.  But God’s word is like a fire, and fire came down again.  This time the fire would descend and stay with us.

The Apostles were gathered together on the day of Pentecost; locked in the upper room for fear, and “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”  The Fire is not just in heaven, it has come down to earth, and God pours out his spirit upon all flesh.

Is not my word like fire, says the Lord?

The prophet Daniel – He replied, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a son of god.’  Who is this who walks in the middle of the fire, and has the appearance of the son of god?

Is not my word like fire, says the Lord?

“Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.  When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.”

The Word became flesh, and that Word is like fire.

Christ is Risen!  Kindle the new fire!

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire…


2 thoughts on “‘God Writes His Story in Fire: Memories of Holy Saturday’, by Joe Walker

  1. Leslie

    Ah, yesterday I watched a seeker-sensitive, large scale Holy Saturday service online put on by a large evangelical church which had a strong beat and a professional touch and but…left me thinking I needed to think more about the true significance of Holy Saturday. Fire. Leave it to you (and Joe) to deliver the answer. Happy Easter, Tim.

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