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Appreciating Our Lutheran Hymns

Lamb of God, Pure and Holy

A Lenten Hymn

#146 in The Lutheran Hymnal

Our Lord warns against the use of vain repetitions in prayer, saying that such practices are typical of the heathen. We have an example of this kind of prayer in the Bible, when the prophets of Baal cried to their god from morning until noon, saying: “O Baal, hear us!” (1 Kgs. 18:26). They imagined that they would be heard for their many words.

We ought to take this warning to heart and be careful not to let our prayers become vain repetitions–for example, saying the Lord’s Prayer or singing the liturgy thoughtlessly.

But Jesus did not say that we should never use repetition in our prayers and worship–only that we should not use vain repetitions. And repetition is a feature of certain parts of our liturgy and of some of our hymns. For example, there are hymns in which each stanza ends with a refrain. There are examples of this in the Bible. In Psalm 136 each of the twenty-six verses ends with the refrain: “For His mercy endures forever.” Also in the liturgy the triple Hallelujah, the Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”), and the triple amen after the benediction are most certainly not vain, but meaningful repetitions.

Our hymn is another example of meaningful repetition in worship. It is a setting of John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus in John 1:29: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

In the hymn we confess three times that Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb of God who suffered on the cross, patient and lowly, bearing our sins. We say that without Him we would be lost. We sing these things three times–not just because they are worth repeating, but also because we sing them in worship of the true God who has made Himself known to us as three-in-one.

Though the prayer is addressed to Jesus, it is offered believing in the Holy Trinity–the God who showed His great love for us in the salvation that He has given us in Christ.

–Pastor John Klatt