Erasmus Sarcerius: Comfort for the Sick

Having instructed the sick person and obtained a confession of sins (see this post), Sarcerius proceeds to offer consolation by means of absolution and the Sacrament. Of particular note is the change in character of the sickness. By means of the forgiveness of sins, the sickness ceases to be a sin-sickness. And if death should follow, it is no longer a Zorntod – a death under God’s wrath. Rather, this sickness now serves to draw the afflicted to Christ, to the merits of his suffering and death, and finally to eternal life.

The certainty of Christ is set over against the certainty of this sickness and eventual death. The Sacraments are added for the strengthening of the weak and as seal and pledge of the promises delivered by the mouth of the pastor. The aim of the pastor’s consolation is the delivery of a good conscience, which requires the testimony of Christ’s body and blood. Notice, however, that in the misuse of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood consciences are again defiled. To receive the Sacrament in one kind only leaves the sick with no certainty that he is following God’s will and doing what is right.

Sarcerius is keenly aware of the temptation to fall back into old habits in the hour of great need, but he does not respond with indulgence. Instead, he presses earnestly forward, insisting that the command of Christ to eat and drink is the ground of consolation in the Sacrament. To step outside that command and institution is to abandon the hope for a good conscience. The question of Communion in one kind persists in 1559, pointing to the patience with which it has been treated. Nevertheless, patience must not give way to negligence. That is a delicate and narrow path to tread, and Sarcerius shows that such work continues even to the last hour.

Consolation

Now then listen to what a merciful God you have. You ought to have been eternally damned for your sins. For it is impossible for any man to help himself out of death and to be able to come to God’s grace through his ability or good life. Therefore God let his only-begotten son, our Lord Jesus Christ, become man and die on the cross for our sins and rise on the third day so that we many be freed from our sins through him and come to the grace of God and eternal life. As Christ himself preaches: “Thus God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten son, so that all who believe in him, etc.” (Joh. 3). Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, that he became man for your sake and paid for your sins on the wood of the cross and sacrificed his life? If you believe it, then I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Do not doubt that I now speak to you on God’s behalf. For Christ commanded that one should preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. And in John 20 he says: “Receive the Holy Ghost. The sins of those you forgive are forgiven. And those you retain, etc. ” Therefore you should certainly believe and hope in the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life through Christ and henceforth commend to the hand of your dear God that he do with you according to his divine will. For even if the sickness should continue unto death, it is no longer a sin-sickness, nor a death under wrath, but rather it is all together an encouragement that we come to that which Christ has earned with his suffering and death, that is, to eternal life. But so that such comfort may be more certain for us, the Lord did not want to leave it with such a statement alone. Rather, he first sealed it with holy Baptism. For you were baptized into Christ’s death, so that you may put it to use and should be freed from sin and death. Then, Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper for his Christians as a new Testament, in which he gives us his body and blood for food and drink, so that we may be certain that such body was given for our sins and his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

But if we want to rightly handle that testament of Christ, we must not handle it otherwise than Christ himself has commanded. Now Christ didn’t say just to eat his body under or with the bread, but he also said to drink his blood under the wine and spoke: “Drink of it all of you.” Therefore I cannot and will not give you the Sacrament otherwise than as Christ commanded me to give it and the Christian Church all together has done for more than 1300 years. So you should not desire nor receive the Sacrament otherwise than as Christ commanded. Then you can be sure that you are following his will and not doing wrong.

So say to me, will you in this manner receive this most worthy Sacrament to strengthen your faith that the body of Christ is given for your sins and his blood shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

When the patient answers, “Yes,” then the pastor first kneels with the patient and prays with him the Our Father out loud.

Thereafter he goes to the table where the host and the wine is and he speaks the words of our Lord Christ out loud. First:
 

On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to his disciples and spoke: “Take and eat, this is my body, which is given for you. Do this for my remembrance.”

After these words he gives him the bread and says:
 

Take and eat, this is the body of Jesus Christ which is given for your sins.

Thereafter, he goes again to the table and speaks further: In the same way he also took the cup after the meal and gave thanks and gave it to them and said, “Drink of it all of you, this is my blood of the new Testament, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it for my remembrance.”

Take and drink, this is the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ  which is poured out for your sins.

IF THE PATIENT IS PRESERVED, ADMONISH HIM TO PRAY AND intercede for him.

Let us now thank God. Repeat after me.

I thank you almighty God that you have restored me through this salutary gift of the body and blood of your son Jesus Christ, and I pray that you would let it give me growth to strong faith towards you so that I commend everything to your mercy and through the help of your Son and the Holy Spirit overcome everything and live eternally according to your promise. Amen.


Erasmus Sarcerius, Pastorale oder Hirtenbuch, trans. David Buchs, (Eisleben: Urbanus Raubisch, 1559), CLXXXIIv-CLXXXIIIv.