Isaiah and the Live Coal


Isa. 6:1-13; 2 Thess. 1:1-12; John 7:53-8:11

One of my favorite passages of Scripture comes to us today in our Old Testament lesson:  the call of Isaiah.  There is arguably no greater vision in terms of imagery.  If you don’t have a Bible handy, let me remind you:

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne…and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”  “Seraphs were in attendance…each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.”  “Holy, Holy, Holy!”  “The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” “Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  “Then one of the seraphs flew at me, holding a live coal…and the seraph touched my mouth….”

And who will go for us?  Isaiah said, “Here I am; send me.”

Each time the Confirmation Class rolls around, I get the privilege of talking with our 7th and 8th graders about prayer.  Some of us, especially at that age, can get lulled into a sense of one-dimensional prayer – that it is only talking to God.  To break the Confirmation Class out of that, and expand their definition of prayer, I often teach the Ignatian method of praying.  It is a good one for Presbyterians, and for others who need permission to “pray with scripture”.  The Ignatian method not only uses scripture in prayer, but involves the imagination and all the senses.  7th and 8th graders are great with this!  Through that method, you become a part of the story.  What did you see?  What did you hear?  Smell?  Taste?

I was enchanted by the seriousness that confirmads undertake this.  They all become a part of the story, each noticing and feeling different aspects of this grand story.  Some felt fear as the seraph flew at them.  Some tasted the coal – others felt the heat or the purification.  Some had been local bystanders, looking in on this scene in which the hem of robes filled the temple.  They were in awe.

The last section is often the most powerful: Here I am; send me.  Isaiah was beginning his ministry.  He had a lot of unpopular things to say to the people, who were trapped in their mediocrity.  This was an acceptance of the burning coal from the altar and what it represented.  Isaiah may now speak for God.  He had been washed clean, and was ready for service.

This is one of the reasons we offer a confession very near the front of the service in most Presbyterian worship services.  We come to God as we are, which means accepting our brokenness and wanting to do something about it.

As you encounter this passage today, whether you sink deep into the rich imagery, or whether you find the confessional aspects most alluring, may Isaiah’s vision inspire you to greater appreciation of the depth and beauty of the Old Testament.


6 thoughts on “Isaiah and the Live Coal

  1. In many ways, the Ignatian Method of prayer is one that uses the imagination, asking the pray-er to imagine themselves inside the scriptural text. It’s what I said above…what do you see? what do you hear? how does it feel to be the Samaritan woman at the well, or the blind man being healed, or in this case standing in God’s presence in the temple. You can see yourself as Isaiah or perhaps a bystander.


  2. So is it with general prayer or prayers that are in the Bible? At the Disciples of Christ church, I have seen the elders reading a written prayer during the Communion prayer. Is that they type of prayer to use the Ignatian Method for?


    • This is you praying in your personal devotion time. For instance, you read the John passage about the samaritan woman at the well. Jesus starts talking to you. Before you know it, you have strayed off the text of the Bible and are talking with Jesus about Korea and your current situation, not hers.


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