A HYMN OF GLORY LET US SING
In His instruction on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against the use of “vain repetitions,” or “babbling.” That’s the way of those who don’t know the true God, He says. They think that their god will hear and answer them if only they keep on talking long enough (Matthew 6:7).
Bearing in mind Jesus’ warning, we will want to be on our guard against careless repetition of prayers that we know from memory and use often, such as the Lord’s Prayer and mealtime prayers. But this is not to say that we should stop using familiar prayers, for our God does not tire of hearing the prayers of His children when they are spoken from the heart.
Nor should we avoid the use of repetition in our worship. Such repetition is prescribed for us in Psalm 136 with its refrain in every verse of “For His mercy endures forever.” That the Holy Spirit inspired a psalm such as this for use in worship teaches us that there are words and phrases that we ought to repeat in our worship.
We often use threefold repetitions in our worship: triple hallelujahs and amens. They remind us that our God has made Himself known to us in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We find this pattern in the Bible, for example, in Isaiah’s vision of God in which angels were crying to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:3)
The hymn “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy” is an example of meaningful repetition in worship. In it we sing to Christ, three times addressing Him in praise and prayer as the Savior Who redeemed us from our sins by offering Himself for us on the cross.
We address Him as the Lamb of God, the title that John the Baptist used when he pointed out Jesus and identified Him as the promised Christ (John 1:29, 36). It is a name for Christ derived from a prophecy of the passion in Isaiah 53:7: “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” It is a name that teaches Christ as the obedient Son of God Who willingly endured the cross, “ever patient and lowly.” In only a few words, this hymn calls to our minds significant details from the passion history: Jesus willingly submitting to arrest in Gethsemane when He could have called for legions of angels to free Him, Jesus patiently submitting to false and blasphemous accusations and extreme physical abuse, Jesus enduring the very curse of God as the bearer of our sins in the darkness of Good Friday. All of this Jesus endured as the pure and holy One, the sinless Son of God offering His perfect and precious life as the sacrifice acceptable to God the Father as full payment for our sins.
Each stanza of this hymn expresses a great deal about Christ in only a few words, all of it Gospel, precious with comfort for the penitent sinner. Our sins are truly great, a crushing burden threatening to drive us to despair. But seeing Christ as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world lifts from our hearts that burden of guilt and fear.
We also address Christ in prayer in each stanza of the hymn, knowing that He Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death is now exalted to God’s right hand with all authority in heaven and on earth. “Have mercy on us, O Jesus,” we cry, asking Him to help us through life in this still sin-corrupted world. “Thy peace be with us,” we pray, calling upon Him to comfort us with the peace of the forgiveness of sins.
Some things are worth repeating. It is good that we should sing these words that express the most profound theological truth, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that God has made known to us to bless us and to save us.
John Klatt is a retired pastor. He and his wife live in Watertown, South Dakota.
The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn #146
Text: John 1:29
Author: Nikolaus Decius, 1531
Translated by: composite
Titled: “O Lamm Gottes”
Tune: “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig”
First published in Christliche Kirchen Ordnung, Erfurt, 1542.