Sermons by Pastor Walter Snyder plus announcements, articles, videos, and anything else that doesn’t fit Ask the Pastor or the Luther Library.

23 August 2009

Out of the Mouth of Babes ... Into the Mouth of Babes?

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 19:14)”

Back in 1997 – 1998, from the Feast of Saint Thomas (21 December) through the Feast of the Resurrection (12 April), the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas organized and hosted a special exhibition entitled The Body of Christ in the Art of Europe and New Spain 1150 – 1800. Our family made the trip from Jasper to Houston to see the show.

This exhibition was divided into four sections, The Word Made Flesh, Suffering and Triumph, The Eucharistic Body, and The Visionary and Devotional Body. The first two were somewhat straightforward, Scripturally based renditions of scenes from our Savior’s life, suffering, and death. The third was largely figurative while the fourth included such mystical events as The Stigmatization of Saint Francis, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, and Saint Catherine of Siena Drinking from the Side Wound of Christ.

Christ Consoled by AngelsEven in the first two sections, many works included “mystical” or symbolic overtones. Among these was Cristo Consolado por los Ángeles (Christ Consoled by the Angels) by Mexican artist Juan Ruiz. The museum book notes, “Christ’s torturers are not present, and the scene is thus displaced from a historical narrative for pious contemplation....” Almost three feet wide, the painting certainly invited the Snyder family “to join the grieving angels surrounding Christ.”

With us that day was our younger daughter. Laura celebrated her sixth birthday that Lenten season, less than a month before the exhibit closed. My fatherly and pastoral curiosity had the better of me. I asked her what was going on in the painting. She’d already been studying it but renewed her concentration, evidently wanting to make certain that she got her interpretation correct.

Christ Consoled by RuizAfter a moment, I tried a simpler question: “Who’s in the center of the painting?”

“Jesus,” she replied.

“Who else?”

“An angel is holding Him.”


“He got hurt too bad to stand up.”

“What happened?”

“The soldiers hit Him with whips before He died on the cross.”

There we were, in the midst of Lent, half way through an exhibit that included many depictions of the Passion. After daring to ask her such basic questions, I was thankful that Laura hadn’t added “You dummy” to one of her replies. We took a few minutes to talk about the historical events of Good Friday versus the way these things make us think and feel. Once I knew that she understood how Ruiz had embellished the story, painting out of his own imagination, we returned to the painting. I asked what else she saw happening.

Christ Consoled by RuizPointing out the angels with chalices, she said, “Some of them are soaking up Jesus’ blood with towels and squeezing it into cups.”

“Ok. What about the angel kneeling behind Jesus?”

Looking closer, she said, “That one is picking up Jesus’ skin and putting it on a plate.”

“Why are they doing that?”

“They’re saving it so people can eat His skin and drink His blood in church.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “What do we call it when we eat Jesus’ body and drink His blood?”

“I forget.”

“You remember. Think for a minute. It’s Holy ...”


Christ Consoled by RuizOf course, “skin” wasn’t technically correct but how common was “flesh” to the working vocabulary of American six year olds at the end of the Second Millennium? She certainly knew what Mama and Papa and Courtney and the other big people were getting at the altar every bit as well as she knew what Ruiz’s painting depicted.

Granted, the museum book offered a more sophisticated interpretation. It says, “Ruiz ... enlarged the subject by making explicit the eucharistic significance of Christ’s body and blood; one of the angels gathers pieces of Christ’s torn flesh and places them on a paten, while others sop up the blood spilled so liberally on the floor and squeeze it into chalices.” Yet how did this scholarly commentary differ in substance from Laura’s version? She knew that “Jesus’ blood” and “Jesus’ skin” were there so we could “eat His skin and drink His blood in church.”

Already I was no fan of making children wait until the end of their 8th grade years to commune. Laura’s brief explanation and confession sealed the deal. She could confess her sins; she could confess the Faith; she could discern the body (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:29). What else did she “need” to do to gain admission to Christ’s altar? Eleven years later, her replies to my questions still make so much more sense than do the answers of much of Lutheranism to this final query: Why did her church tell Laura and many like her that they could not commune until they were older?

Cristo Consolado por los Ángeles
Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz (1713 – 72)
Oil on copper, 25 3/8 x 33 5/8 inches (64.5 x 85.5 cm)
Pinacoteca Virreinal, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes,
Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Mexico

Art commentary quoted from The Body of Christ in the Art of Europe and New Spain 1150 – 1800 by James Clifton, © 1997 by the Museum of Fine Arts and Prestel-Verlag, Berlin.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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