A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING (THIRTY-THIRD IN A SERIES)
On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through a village where He was met by a group of ten men who were afflicted with leprosy. Not daring to approach too closely—for lepers were forbidden close contact with the general population—they called out to Him from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13) On another occasion two blind men followed Jesus and cried out to Him, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” (Matthew 9:27)
Their cries for mercy were not in vain. Jesus healed the ten lepers and opened the eyes of the two blind men.
Jesus must surely have heard cries for mercy constantly as He traveled about Galilee and Judea, teaching and healing. People with afflictions of various kinds appealed to Him to relieve their misery from disability, disease, and demon possession. They appealed to Him because they had heard or seen how Jesus had freed others from all sorts of ailments and troubles. Because of these answered appeals for mercy that we read about in the Gospels, the cry for mercy has long been a regular part of Christian worship. In our Sunday services we sing, “Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.”
This part of the liturgy follows the confession of sins and the absolution in which we are assured that we are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. In response to that precious assurance, we sing a hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity. Then comes the threefold cry for mercy, for though we are forgiven and at peace with God, we must remain for a while in this sin-corrupted world in which we have to endure many trials.
The hymn “Kyrie, God Father in Heaven Above” expands on this portion of the liturgy. It reminds us why our appeals to God for help with the troubles of this world are not in vain. In it we address God as Kyrie, the Greek word meaning “Lord”. We come to Him as He has made Himself known to us in the Scriptures: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is God the Father, not only our “Maker and Preserver” but also the one who is great in “grace and love.”
He is “Christ, our King” Who brought salvation for sinners. He is the Lord Jesus, God’s own Son, Who rose from the dead after offering Himself as the sacrifice to free us from our sins and reconcile us to God. Now He sits on His heavenly throne where He serves as Mediator between us and God. He is able to “hear our cry and grant our supplication.”
He is God the Holy Ghost, Who through the Word and sacrament has given us faith in Jesus Christ. It is truly “the gift we need the most,” for by faith we possess the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We ask the Spirit to guard that precious gift all our life and to bless our last hour so that we are able to “leave this sinful world with gladness.”
An unusual feature of this hymn is its use of Greek words. Kyrie is the title by which the disciples addressed Jesus when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee and cried out, “Lord, save us!” (Matthew 8:25) It is how the woman of Canaan addressed Jesus when she pleaded with Him to free her daughter from the torment of demon possession (Matthew 15:25). Eleison, “have mercy,” is the word used in the Gospels to record the cries for mercy of the ten lepers, the two blind men, the woman of Canaan, and others. It is a good thing for us to know these words from the original Greek text of the New Testament. Not that they have any more power than their equivalents in English or any other spoken language. But they teach us that when we sing, “Lord, have mercy upon us,” we are joining with a multitude of believers who have called on the name of the Lord, going all the way back to those we meet in the four Gospels.
Like theirs, our cries for mercy will never be in vain. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13) He will hear us and answer us according to His perfect wisdom.
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.