Charcoal Memories
By Anthony Casperson

They’d failed last time. Memories of that failure echo around their head. It’s painful to stare at similar surroundings. Straight into the eyes that watched them fail before. But they’re here now and ready to be returned to the standing that they know should be theirs.

We see this a lot in stories. It’s pretty standard in tales about competitions or sporting events. And even heroic tales utilize this path of events. My mind goes straight toward the Luke vs. Vader lightsaber duels.

It gives the audience reason to doubt the protagonists’ overcoming of the trial. And makes it that much more emotional when the reversal of fortune happens.

This is all the more true when certain details remain consistent between the attempts. The same location. The same time of day. The same rush of sound. Something that oppresses the memory into our minds.

It’s part of the reason why we don’t like returning to places where we drastically failed. Getting back behind the wheel after an accident. Standing back up on that stage. Walking through that door. Speaking to that person.

And maybe even speaking to God after we’ve spoken words that we wish we could take back.

That last one happened to me recently. I felt terrible for sinning in such a dramatic way. And had those doubts in the back of my mind that wondered how I could ever repent enough for my stupidity. I’d have to speak to him again since that’s a part of relationship with him, after all.

And that’s when my daily reading in the bible led me to John 18:18.

For those unfamiliar with the reference—or not super close to a bible—this is during the trial of Jesus, just before he’s crucified. Peter and John are out in the courtyard watching. Other gospels mention that Peter was able to be within eyeline of Jesus at some point. So, they were nearby.

Peter had already been told that he’d deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. And had already denied once that he was a part of Jesus’ followers when he first entered the gates.

Then he then moved to a charcoal fire to warm himself in the cool pre-dawn hours. Denying Jesus two more times. The rooster crowed. And Peter fled.

Okay. So, what’s the point? Many of us have heard about this before. What’s it got to do with echoes of failure? Well, this is the memory.

See, the word for “charcoal fire” used in John 18:18 is only found in one other location throughout the bible: John 21:9. Here is the time that Peter once again stares into the eyes that turned his direction as the rooster crowed. And Jesus sits beside a charcoal fire in the early morning.

The denial had to be on the mind of Peter. His failure. Too many similarities. His gaze moves from the popping charcoal fire into the eyes of the one he’d denied. The one he’d failed.

But Jesus’ actions in this moment weren’t those of anger or expecting an apology. No, this is where Jesus gives Peter a chance to repeat the trial. “Do you love me?” Three questions for three denials. And each time Jesus tells the man to feed/tend his lambs/sheep.

There’s still work to do after this failure. It’s not the end of the world. And it’s certainly not the end of the relationship.

All of this, Jesus set up to bring Peter back to his memory of failure, to remind him that those eyes stared back at him in love, regardless of the failure.

And which side of the trial do you think Peter thought of every time he set eyes on another charcoal fire after his restoration? The denial? Or the call by his Lord and Savior to continue the work?

Seeing that charcoal fire myself, I was reminded of God’s love for us even when we sin terribly. The price paid was great. But those eyes that paid for it don’t stare at us in hatred or disgust. It’s love that seeks our restoration to right relationship that falls upon us.

Even in our failures.

The same is true for all of us. No sin is unforgivable (outside of total rejection of the work of the cross). There is no failure that can’t restore us to be ready for the work he’s called us to.

Jesus is there, ready with some version of a charcoal fire. Waiting for us to remember the failure, but ready to move on in restoration. Will we lift our eyes to his again and answer his questions?