5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 7, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson from Mark 1.
My dear friends,
You know me well enough by now to know I’m not a fancy-pants artsy-fartsy kind of guy. Give me the Super Bowl over a museum of art any day. I wouldn’t know a Monet from a Manet from mayonnaise. Yet I do from time to time come across some pretty cool images to use in sermons. This is an image I have used before, but never explained. This painting is by Danish artist Carl Bloch who painted this image called “Christus Consolator,” a painting that shows forlorn people in various states of anguish huddled around the risen Christ. A consolator is “one who consoles,” and according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word is obsolete. Still, I think that’s an apt title for Jesus.
I know it’s hard to remember a TV commercial from 1976, but I can. A father and son were leaving the hockey rink. The announcer introduced us to Pete, still in his gear. He was the goalie who let the puck get by him and consequently lost the game. The dad, who felt his son’s anguish but who also knew that life is much more than hockey, offered his son a wintergreen Life Savers candy. The son grudgingly took what his dad offered. The dad told his son that when Dad fumbled and lost his high school’s big game, it took a whole roll of similar Life Savers candies to make him feel better. The son turned to his dad and smiled and asked him if he had a whole roll. The dad consoled his son by reminding him there would be other games. Then the scene ended, and the announcer told the viewers that Life Savers candies are a part of life.
A roll of wintergreen Life Savers candies may be useful for some occasions, but the people in the Christus Consolator painting don’t strike me as those who only need a mint. A prisoner in chains is looking for relief from his sins. A cripple has seemingly lost the will to live. A man hopeless and broken he clings to Jesus as his only source of hope. A widow and an orphan looks to Jesus, forlorn. A skeptical religious leader wrestles with his questions and doubts. None of the figures in the painting is a biblical character. Instead, they are representatives of the countless people through the ages who have encountered Christ the Consolator. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). We find refuge in him, the Consolator.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus strides into a sickroom. Peter’s mother-in-law is suffering with a “great (Luke) fever.” In those days, before antibiotics, such fevers were a genuine and immediate threat to life. This woman is left nameless. Of course, Mark knows Peter’s mother-in-law’s name; yet he does not use it. Why? Mark is telling us that the Lord Christ attends the anonymous, the forgotten, the nameless, faceless individual who is in need of divine consolation. Jesus is the one who takes initiative with us, to serve us, to extend life to us. He comes to us in our “back rooms,” suffering with our own perilous fevers and comes to give us rest and consulation. Christus Consolator.
Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. The fever left her. Immediately. No magic wand, no “presto-chango” mumbo jumbo. An exchange takes place: her sickness and his health. He takes what is ours and gives to us what is his and did so in the remainder of today’s Gospel lesson. Sickness, demon-possession, disease, sin, and death—he came to take it all. More than one biblical writer tells us about this blessed exchange. Isaiah writes, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). Matthew writes, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases” (Mt 8:17). Paul tells us that Christ became poor with our poverty, he became sin with all of our transgressions, he became dead with the death of the whole human race. He restores us with his blessing, his victory, his truth, his divine love. THAT is consolation.
I don’t need to tell you that this life is very often not pretty, not comfortable, not fun. People look for consolation. People hunt high and low for every conceivable way to cope with trouble in life, and find something that they think will turn things around. An adulterous relationship, a bottle, gambling, clothing, pills, food, shopping sprees, endless entertainment—you name it. Solomon would call it “Vanity!” Looking for consolation in these things not only doesn’t help but very often makes the problem worse. It may deaden the pain temporarily, but it does not console. Our Lord brings us something more, for he is Christus Consolator.
Jesus took the woman by the hand and lifted her up. That exact same phrase is used one other time in the Gospel narratives: for Jairus’ dead daughter. She, too, had no name. She lay in the back of the house, a twelve-year-old, lifeless. The situation was not one that a wintergreen Life Savers candy could resolve for Jairus and his wife. Christus Consolator moved directly to the child’s side, took her by the hand, and raised her up: “Child, arise” (Lk 8:54). Life after death is consolation; resurrection is consolation.
The Lord’s empty tomb is divine consolation for sinners who know that death is real…so very, very real.
To bless you and console you, Jesus died; the Son of God Almighty died. To console you in whatever grief this world brings, the Lord of heaven and earth died.
Now and ever living, Christus Consolator serves you here through the Word, the preached Word that you hear, at this altar where he gives you his body and blood. The great fever of your sin is not on you. You are forgiven. Your shame has been removed, your guilt atoned for. You are embraced by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. You have been made new in Christ’s blood. Again, that is consolation.
He consoles you with his resurrection and sends you out to serve your fellow man. All this is consolation of the highest order. We shall run in this life, the race marked out for us; we shall run and not be weary. We walk toward heaven. We will not faint. We will not give up. Christus Consolator is with us. Always…to the very end.
This worked 2 weeks ago. Let’s see if it works tonight. Go Bucs!