The word “charcoal” is used only two times in the bible, and both are related to Peter.
Peter is following Jesus after his arrest wondering his fate. It’s a cold evening and he comes to a courtyard where there is a gathering of people hovered around a “charcoal fire”. A servant girl asks him if he is one of the disciples and he says: “I am not”. (Jn 18:17) It’s the first of three denials by Peter.
The only other time the word “charcoal” is used in the bible is in John 21:9, his reinstatement.
After a long evening of poor fishing Jesus redirects the disciples to cast their nets on the “right side of the boat” resulting in a miraculous catch. John exclaims: “it is the Lord!” prompting Peter to put on a jacket and jump into the water to get to shore. (Jn 21:4-8)
The other disciples follow by boat and are greeted by Jesus who has prepared breakfast for them: “they saw a charcoal fire in place with fish laid out on it, and bread”. (John 21:9, my emphasis)
Then the dramatic reinstatement of Peter occurs when Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” Then says: “follow me”. (Jn 21:15-19)
Our sense of smell is said to be the most powerful of our senses to evoke memories and emotions. Nerve tracks from the nose go to the olfactory bulb which has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory, and tactile information do not pass through these brain areas.
I wonder if Jesus intentionally made this “charcoal” fire taking Peter back to the first denial of his Lord during that dark, cold evening.
This is now a different scene, a tender scene. It’s morning, the disciples have successfully done their job catching a boatload of fish after listening to Jesus. He greets the tired fishermen with a warm breakfast cooked over a charcoal fire using this time to reinstate Peter. The aroma of the burning charcoal reminding him of from where he came.
Jesus can use the whole person to make us whole again. To remind us of where we came, what he has done and will continue to do, and then elevates us into partnership with him.
Thank you Jesus, and Hallelujah!