The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mark 1:29 “And immediately after they had come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Him about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them. 32 And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. 35 And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for Him; 37 and they found Him, and said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ 38 And He said to them, ‘Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.’ 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.” (NASB)
One of the most neglected God given gifts by the contemporary church is the gift of art. In days gone by most liturgical churches used art to promote Christian piety, education, worship, and beauty. Christians once looked upon architecture, sculptures, paintings as a way to visually capture the depth and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the wonderful theology of the Bible and church. The church of old understood that sacred art captured deep truths of God’s Word and thus inspire the hearts and minds of Christians.
Altar pieces are one way that that is done. What’s an altar pieces? It is a piece of art work that rests on or behind and above the altar. By its placement it draws the eye and attention of all who enter the nave and sanctuary to the person and work of Christ and the church. Altar pieces are sometimes a paints, sometimes a sculpture, and sometimes a combination of the two .
You have an example of one of those on the front of your worship folder this morning. This particular altar piece is at the church of Sofia Albertina in Landskrona, Sweden. The painting is by Carl Heinrich Bloch, a Danish artist who used his talent to portray Christ in various episodes of His ministry. In this particular altar piece, the resurrected Christ stands in the middle of a small crowd of people who are suffering from various kinds of afflictions.
The painting is named, “Christus Consolator.” In English, “Christ The Consoler.” English dictionaries tell us that the word “Consolator” is obsolete. It has been replace with “consolation.” I think we ought to bring the word “consolator” back. It’s a fine word and we need more consolators on the planet. Perhaps we ought to use it as an informal title for the pastoral office. “One who consoles with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” “One who consoles with the Word and sacrament ministry.” This is what St. Said was the purpose of the prophet, the preacher in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:2 “The one who prophesies speaks to people for edification, exhortation, and consolation.”
In the modern usage of the word, consolation can carry with it the sense of being a loser. One for whom we feel pity. We give consolation prizes to people who lost. From that point on, the prize does little more than just remind the recipient that he or she lost.
The people depicted in the Christus Consolator painting are people suffering in various forms from the condition of sin, which is of course a universal condition. You can’t see the details of the painting in that small black and white reproduction on the front of your worship folder, but to the right of the Christ figure is a man in chains, a prisoner. At Jesus’s feet on the right a cripple and on the left at Jesus’s feet a seemingly hopeless man. A widow huddles beneath the fold of Christ’s garment and an orphan looks on as if abandoned by others. A doubting-Thomas type in the background wrestles with his skepticism. All the figures in the painting represent the countless people through the ages to whom Christ the Consolator has come.
The altar piece above the altar of Sofia Albertina Kyrka brings two realities into one. The resurrected Divine Consoler who is also true Man is welcoming the forsaken, sick, downtrodden, and distressed into His kingdom.
This is what the church is suppose to do, but has failed to do. The church especially the mainline protestant churches have all but left the cities so that only the Roman Catholics and social gospel types have been left in the poor parts of our county.
Look at where the mega church has gone as well. The church itself now finds itself in its own distress. It is filled with false doctrine, flawed and defiled worship services, empty pews, biblical illiteracy, and largely irrelevant to the people and culture of the day. A church that has little to do with the sick, the poor, the distressed, and the hopeless will find itself in it own impoverished state.
The Gospel lesson assigned for this Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany records the coming of the Consolator (Christ Jesus) to the mother-in-law of Simon-Peter. Jesus had just cast out a demon from a man in the local synagogue. He left the synagogue and headed to the house of Simon and Andrew. After He leaves the synagogue He heads to Simon-Peter’s house and learned that Peter’s mother-in-law is suffering with fever. The Gospel of Luke tells us it was a “great fever.” No long ago high fevers were a genuine threat to life.
We don’t know the name of the woman. We only know her relationship to Peter and thus to Jesus. That is an interesting fact because Mark was connected to Peter. Mark was not one of the original twelve. He likely wrote the Gospel bearing his name under the supervision of Peter, yet he does not use her name.
John the writer of the Gospel was one of the original twelve. He was “the disciples whom Jesus loved.” That’s how he referred to Himself. He doesn’t use his own name. Perhaps some names are missing as an act of humility. Maybe the names were used as a manifestation of humility or to show that what most important is Christ’s relationship to the one who was in need.
Jesus enters Peter’s house. He goes to Peter’s mother-in-law, takes her by the hand, raises her up, and the fever leaves her. Jesus didn’t even speak a word this time. He simply took her by the hand and pulled her up and she was healed.
What was her response? She goes to work. She waits on them. She served them. She went back to her station, her vocation to do for the Lord and His disciples what a hostess ought to do for guests. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Up until the moment she was restored, she did nothing. We have no idea what her disposition was toward the claim of her son-in-law that Jesus was the Christ. What we do know is that Jesus was the one who took the initiative. It was His actions that brought about her restoration.
As you all know, there is a liturgy that accompanies pretty much all our rites, ceremonies, the administration of the sacraments, and so on. Some of that liturgy can be long. All of that liturgy, no matter what the context is there for educational purposes. While we do this thing or that thing during the service, the liturgy teaches the congregation what it is that God is doing through and to us in the Word and Sacrament ministry.
Think here of the baptismal liturgy, which speaks the Law and Gospel. It begins like this; “We learn from the Word of God, that all from the fall of Adam are conceived and born in sin and so are under the wrath of God and would be lost forever unless delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ . . . But the Father of all mercy and grace has promised and sent His Son Jesus Christ . . .”
But of all the words in the liturgy of the Rite of Holy Baptism, only these are the only words necessary. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Those are the words of God that make the difference. A single word from Christ or in the case of the Gospel lesson this morning is case a single act creates a new reality.
There is no incantation. Jesus never calls upon some other kind of force, agent, spiritual being to accomplish the purpose for which He speaks. He took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.
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 by taking all of our transgressions unto Himself. He became dead with our death. He takes what robs us of our humanity and restores our humanity with His humanity and divinity.
Simeon was the old man who greeted the baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the temple at Christmas. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit was upon him and he was waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” (Luke 2:25)
Jesus is the consolation, the Consolation of the world, and your Consolator. People look for consolation in all the wrong places. They seek it in the things they own, or in the things they do. Some try to find pain relief and comfort by self medicating with drugs and alcohol. Some seek religions and philosophies that promise a life without pain and suffering. As far as I know, they all end up suffering with the various processes of death and death itself.
“And He came and took her by the hand.” That exact same phrase is used for what Jesus did for Jairus’s dead daughter. We don’t know her name either. We only know that Christus Consolator went immediately to the child, took her by the hand, and raised her up. In that case Jesus spoke “Child, arise!” (Lk 8:54) I guess because sometimes you have to tell a child what to do.
31 “And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.” Most English translations miss what was happening in the text. In Greek it literally says, “And He forgave her the fever, and she was serving them.” Jesus pronounced forgiveness on her and the fever left. Jesus also says in the Greek, “her” rather than “it.” That is He doesn’t forgive the fever, but He forgives her.
The Son of God, took on earthly flesh to redeem, that is to restore body and soul – – to make a new creation. He forgives us our sins so that the fever of death and death itself leaves us. The crucifixion is both a physical and spiritual ordeal. Through the beatings and crucifixion the body is punished for sin. Through the rejection of men and the forsaking of God the Father, the Jesus Christ is punished for our sin and dies.
After Jesus is done in the house serving and being served, He goes away to a solitary place to pray. Simon-Peter and his companions pursue Jesus and beg Him to return because more people needed to be healed. What did Jesus say? “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.”
Physical miracles were not an end in themselves. The miracles of Jesus were to point people to the greater miracle of the forgiveness sin, life, and salvation. The healings pointed forward to His death on Good Friday and to the resurrection from the tomb on Easter morning.
Jesus didn’t come to be temporal healer and miracle worker. That was not His primary focus. He said that Himself, “in order that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out for.”
What did He preach, the Law and the Gospel. Sin and death, His death and His resurrection. Jesus was Rabbi, the Teacher. This is the title applied to Jesus most often in the Gospels. His doctrine, His teachings are promises of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. His promises are the resurrection and eternal life. That is the comfort/consolation with which we are to comfort one another in our deepest sorrow and suffering.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5; “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”
Christus Consolator serves has come and is coming to you through the Word, the preached Word, the Word at this altar, the Word in Baptism. He consoles you with His resurrection and sends you out to serve your fellow man. All this is the Consolation of the highest order. Christ is your Consolator/Consolation in your most deepest depression, your greatest pains, and your most horrible circumstances because He has already forgiven your sin.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.