5th Sunday after the Epiphany “Christus Consolator”
February 7, 2021 Mark 1:29-39
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” So said an advertiser in 1921. Thousands of artists have made pictures//paintings of our Lord & His life. One picture can include many deep & meaningful truths of God to teach, to inspire, or to comfort us.
So, there’s a church in Sweden, called Sofia Albertina Kyrka in the town of Landskrona;
in this church, above the altar, is a painting that we can relate to our gospel reading for today from Mark 1 == I included that picture on an insert in your bulletin this morning. As you can see, huddled around the Risen Christ are 7 people who are in various conditions of life.
The painting is by Carl Heinrich Bloch, a Danish artist, who used his talent to portray the Lord Jesus in various episodes of His life & ministry. The title of this particular painting is
Christus Consolator. A consolator is ‘one who consoles.’
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Consolator, is an obsolete word; your computer will underline it in red as an error. We will say that one person ‘consoles’ another; we just don’t call them a ‘consolator’. The one who consoles brings comfort, relief & support; we might call them a comforter, a counselor, or a supporter.
A related word we do use is ‘consolation.’ But that word is most often related to the idea of ‘loser.’ *Have you ever received a ‘consolation prize’? I have; it means you lost the race or contest; you didn’t get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place with a gold/silver/bronze metal, or a blue/red /yellow ribbon. *Were you ever -really- ‘consoled’ by your consolation prize? You practiced hard & worked hard & gave it your all in front of your family & friends, and you didn’t win.
Sure, there are some things we do where we don’t expect to win, just to finish in one piece; and we’re satisfied. It IS more admirable to participate than not to. But participants don’t need ‘consoling’, disappointed losers do.
With that idea, I was reminded of a TV commercial from years ago (1976) for Life Saver candy; they had a little jingle: ‘lifesavers, a part of living.’ So, a father & son are leaving the hockey rink, & the narrator tells us about the boy, Pete, who is still dressed in his gear & down-cast. He was the goalie who let the puck get by him, & so his team lost the game.
The dad is feeling his son’s disappointment & offers him a wintergreen Life Savers candy, & the boy takes it. The dad then says, that when he once fumbled the football & lost the game, it took a whole roll of Life Savers to make him feel better. The son asks, ‘do you have a whole roll?’ The dad smiles, gives his son the whole roll, and consoles the boy saying that there will be other games.
I’m sure a roll of wintergreen Life Savers can be useful for some disappointments,
but not for the people the artist paints into the picture of Christus Consolator. Candy won’t be enough. In the picture, we see /a prisoner in chains, looking for relief from his crimes & punishment; /there’s a cripple who’s lost the will to go on; /there’s -perhaps- a sinful woman, /& a widow, /& an orphan, /& a poor man; /and in the back, a man wrestling with his deep doubts.
None of the people in the painting are meant to be Bible characters; instead, they represent US = the countless anonymous people thru the ages who have been put-upon by life, & then met Christ the Consolator. Christ is the One who said in Mt.11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus was sent to be our life-saver, for true living. We have come to know Him as /the Living One, /the Good Shepherd, /the Bread of Life, /the Word of Life, /& the Light of our world ~ who chases away our darkness. That obsolete word fits Him very well. Christ IS our Consolator.
It was the decision of that church in Sweden to hang this picture above their altar; it speaks a good message there. The message is: the Divine Consoler welcomes any & all the distressed, whether just disappointed with life, or in real anguish. It’s there at His altar where our Consolator welcomes US; and where we find /our rest, /our shalom, /our peace, /a better outlook & a better life.
In our churches, the altar is the place of sacrifice = not our sacrifices for Him, but His for us. From His altar, He applies to us His mercy & forgiveness no matter what our trouble or condition. The altar is the sign of His death & resurrection establishing His power & glory; the altar signifies His ascension to reign for us, & to prepare a place for us in His heaven.
Above an altar is a good place for that painting; we are invited & called to present ourselves in front of God’s altar, and to receive His gifts to console us.
In our Gospel reading, when Jesus is told about Simon’s mother-in-law, without delay, He goes into her room. When Luke writes about this, he says she had a ‘great’ fever; maybe it was a contagious virus fever. Before antibiotics & more refined medicines, ‘fever’ often meant ‘death.’ Some Bible commentators note that even tho Peter’s mother-in-law’s name would have been known, it’s left unsaid = on purpose. We also notice that she says nothing, & she does nothing. St.Mark is teaching us some truths. Mark is teaching that Christ Jesus pays attention to the nameless & forgotten, those that are alone in their room, helpless, & those who are considered ‘lost causes’. The world ignores many; but God keeps track of ALL. For this woman, her Creator knows her very well, & He comes to her even without her prayer.
This reminds us of another basic Biblical truth. This whole sinful world is filled with people who don’t even know how dangerous & terminal their condition is. They are dead with sin-fever, & cut off from God. They’re unaware of the coming eternal disaster; not mindful of their need of healing. So, God takes the initiative with us. He sees our need, makes His promise; & Jesus comes to us, to serve us with His own life. He did not let earthly things distract Him, or pull Him away from our atonement at the cross.
In the world, none of us are that important or name-worthy; but HE knows our name and our need. He comes to us, and takes our hand to lift us up. It’s sin & guilt that robs us of hope & liveliness. He forgives our sin to heal us of our most deadly illness. So, whether our life makes us seem like /a prisoner, /a cripple, /a widow, /an orphan /or a doubter, He is the One to bring us a heavenly consolation. Those conditions cannot defeat you; not when the God of Life sees you, & knows your name.
Into our sicknesses, He brings to us His health, and it’s a GREAT EXCHANGE.
‘Exchange’ is another foundational Bible teaching. It describes the kind of love that has been shown to us. Jesus didn’t just come to take & throw away our sin & all its troubles; He came to exchange. He takes our sin, illnesses & death and we receive His holiness, health, & life.
He takes our condemnation & rejection on himself to the cross, and He covers us with His own righteousness, and acceptance as holy children of the Father. To compare this to Mark 1, Jesus didn’t just make her fever disappear into ‘thin air.’ He gave her health, and he took her fever with Him -in His body- to the cross. That’s how much He saves you & me.
A blessed exchange. As the prophet Isaiah writes, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” ~ all of them. (Is 53:4). Matthew writes, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” ~ He did. (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 suffered our hell when He was forsaken on the cross. He takes what robs us of true life, and He restores us with /His purpose, /His blessing, /His victory, /His truth, /His hope. That is true consolation.
*What is life in this broken world supposed to be like? We sometimes look at powerful, rich, famous, healthy & pretty people, and think ‘they’ve got it made; they must be so happy & fulfilled.’ And then later we hear that those people are sick, divorced, depressed, addicted, hospitalized, or dead because being rich or popular was not a whole roll of Life Savers.
Everyone needs real consolation. The world offers a whole bunch of substitutes. Of course it offers ‘sex, drugs & rock & roll’; it offers /a bottle or gambling, /money or shopping, /makeovers or surgeries, /travel or entertainments. But, as wise Solomon said, it’s ‘vanity’, a chasing after the wind. The world’s ‘consolation prizes’ might distract us for a time; but they don’t take away the real problem; which is: our sin has made us a loser.
But Jesus has come to us with His exchange. Jesus took the woman by the hand and lifted her up. That same phrase is used in Luke 8, when a man named Jairus came to get Jesus because his daughter was sick. While Jesus was on His way, she died. A nameless 12 yr old girl lay on her bed, lifeless. But Christus Consolator goes into her room, ‘took her by the hand and lifted her up.’ Jesus restores her young life, and He takes her death with Him because He will be nailing it to the cross. Amazing grace & divine consolation. Jesus says in John 10, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The last thing we’ll notice in Mark 1 is that, as Jesus comes & serves Peter’s mother-in-law with His life; so after she received it, then she got up to serve others. That is how we understand the rhythm of our Christian lives. This is a picture of what happens when we come HERE -in church- for the Divine Service, and then leave here to go back out into the world of our daily living.
The Lord Jesus serves you here, giving you His Spirit thru His Word & teaching.
He renews His Baptism promise to you of being a child of God; at the altar, He gives you
a special meal of bread & wine, bringing you His body & blood. He consoles you with His forgiveness = taking away your fever of sin; and He restores you to a right & holy life.
And then He sends you out to serve Him by the Christian-good you do for others. This is our new life until He returns again, or He calls us home.
The world will still treat us like we’re losers; like our empty religion is a pitiful consolation prize. But when the very Son of God IS our consolation, its means we are -actually- winning the race; and we are looking forward to a prize that is reserved for us
in His heavenly kingdom. We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there; and we don’t want anything to disqualify us.
So with Him, in Christ, we will run & not be weary; we will walk & not faint.
Jesus & His gifts have become our life’s courage, strength & hope = our true Life Saver. With His teachings, we strive ahead to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christus Consolator.