The Second Sunday in Lent

February 24, 2013

“Kyrie Eleison”

St. Matthew 15:22


And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”



The Gospels record for us seven instances in which people came up to Jesus and cried out to him for mercy.  Sometimes he is addressed as Lord.  Sometimes he is addressed as Son of David.  In the instance of the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to release her daughter from demon-possession, she addressed him as both Lord and Son of David.  To call Jesus the Son of David was to call him the Christ.  The Messiah or Christ was to be the Son of David.  Jesus was born a thousand years after David was born but he could trace his lineage back to David through both his mother and his step-father.  Jesus was biologically the Son of David. 


Jesus was the Son of David both biologically as his direct Descendant and according to his office as King of the Jews.  Jesus assumed David’s throne.  All of the promises God gave to David were realized in Jesus.  Jesus was David’s Son, yet he was David’s Lord.  That portion of the Old Testament that is most frequently quoted in the New Testament is the first verse of Psalm 110:


The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”


The woman from Canaan cried out to Jesus for mercy on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter.  In crying out to Jesus for mercy, she confessed Jesus as both Lord and Christ.  Jesus is Lord is the most fundamental Christian confession.  It is the confession, not only of believers, but of all of creation.  God will see to it.  St. Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, after describing the humiliation, suffering, and death of Jesus, wrote in his Epistle to the Philippians, chapter two:

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus is Lord.  To confess this is to glorify God the Father.  Why is that?  What does it mean to confess that Jesus is Lord?


Quite obviously, it means that Jesus is God.  The Canaanite woman and the others, who came to Jesus for help, addressing him as Lord weren’t just being polite in doing so.  They were making a Christian confession.  Jesus of Nazareth is God almighty, the creator of all things that were made, the Lord of heaven and earth.  This is what all Christians confess.  To deny that Jesus is God in the flesh is to deny Jesus.  To confess that Jesus is Lord is to confess that Jesus is God.


But there are other words for God than Lord.  Jesus has many titles in the Bible that describe his true deity: Immanuel, Good Shepherd, Redeemer, Savior, I Am, Holy One of Israel, just to name a few.  What connotations are attached to the title, Lord?


On this point there is much confusion in the church today among Protestants here in America.  The word Lord is used to denote sovereign power to which the Christian must willingly submit.  To call Jesus Lord is understood primarily in terms of the obligation this places upon the Christian to live a life of obedience.  Jesus as Savior thus evokes faith and trust whereas Jesus as Lord evokes submissive obedience.


Well, we certainly aren’t going to question the duty of every Christian to submit to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The faith of our hearts is expressed by holy lives.  In today’s Epistle Lesson (1 Thessalonians 4:1-7) St. Paul teaches us that God wills our sanctification.  God wants us to live lives according to his commandments.


But the primary emphasis of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not our submission or obedience or holy life.  Indeed, it is not we at all.  It is he.  He is Lord!  What does that mean?  Listen to these words from Luther’s Large Catechism:


If you are asked, “What do you believe in the Second Article, concerning Jesus Christ?” answer briefly, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true Son of God, has become my Lord.”  What is it to “become a Lord”?  It means that he has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil.  Before this I had no Lord and King but was captive under the power of the devil.  I was condemned to death and entangled in sin and blindness.


When we were created by God the Father and had received from him all kinds of good things, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil.  We lay under God’s wrath and displeasure, doomed to eternal damnation, as we had deserved.  There was no counsel, no help, no comfort for us until this only and eternal Son of God, in his unfathomable goodness, had mercy on our misery and wretchedness and came from heaven to help us.  Those tyrants and jailers now have been routed, and their place has been taken by Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and righteousness and every good blessing.  He has snatched us, poor lost creatures, from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace.  He has taken us as his own, under his protection, in order that he may rule us by his righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness. 


What a beautiful description of what the word Lord means when it is applied to our Lord Jesus!  This is what that woman from Canaan found in Jesus when she cried out to him for mercy.


And she speaks for the Church.  Her plea to Jesus is the plea of the Church.  This is so quite literally.  Her cries – along with those of blind beggars, men afflicted with leprosy, and a man whose son suffered from epilepsy – are cried by Christians of all times and places in the words, “Lord have mercy upon us; Christ have mercy upon us; Lord have mercy upon us.”  We call it the “Kyrie Eleison” which is Greek for “Lord, have mercy.”


It was my privilege to visit Ukraine several times between ten and fifteen years ago to teach theology at a seminary in western Ukraine.  The only Ukrainian I can remember are the words: Hospodi Pomilui, Lord have mercy.  I couldn’t help but learn these words because they were repeated so often in the liturgy.  When the Church gathers to worship God she cries out to the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy.  The need for mercy sets the framework for our worship.  Apart from our need for mercy, worship becomes a rather obnoxious display of religiosity.


And that’s what it frequently becomes as Christians imagine that they are glorifying God simply by saying how glorious God is.  God’s glory – what puts the Lordship in Lord – is not how piously I can describe his exalted status.  It is displayed where he shows mercy.  The Kyrie Eleison sets us before God in our weakness, our poverty, and our sin.  That is where we witness and experience his Lordship.  That’s where Christ is revealed as Christ, where his kingdom, power, and glory are shown.


God delights in showing mercy.  “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”  What will he who came into this world to fight our battle against the devil do when we cry out to him for mercy?  Will he be merciful?  Or will he ignore us in our need?  Have you ever been denied mercy by God?  You may think you have been, but have you really?  Did you turn away and give up when it appeared that he said no to you?  You thought God said no because you couldn’t discern his helping hand?  You couldn’t see it the way you wanted and expect to see it?  So you gave up and walked away from it, figuring that God wasn’t going to listen to you anyway?  Learn from this woman how to pray.


“Lord, have mercy upon us.  Christ, have mercy upon us.  Lord, have mercy upon us.”  This is a liturgical rubric.  It is set near the beginning of the Divine Service on a Sunday morning.  It is set near the end of the Vespers in the evening.  The plea to Christ for mercy marks the beginning and the end of every day.  This is the steadiest, unchanging, constant feature of our liturgical worship.  The Kyrie is never omitted.  It always belongs to the liturgy.


But this is not just a liturgical rubric.  This is faith.  This is life.  It is faith.  We believe in the God who was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man to become our Redeemer.  We trust in him who shed his blood on the cross to bring God’s mercy to the human race.  The compassion of God toward those who have sinned, wandered away from him, and defied him is not a grudging, “I told you so” kind of mercy that constantly reminds us of how low we are.  It is a mercy upon which confident faith can rest!  When we confess to him our sins and lay on him our troubles and ask him for his help in our needs he gives us what we ask.  He gives us what we need.  Mercy is what faith needs and mercy is what faith has.


This is faith and life.  The Kyrie forms our faith in that it finds God where God wants to be found, where he forgives us our sins for the sake of the obedience, suffering, and death of his dear Son.  The Kyrie doesn’t try to fly up to heaven to bring God down to earth.  It seeks God here on earth, specifically on the cross where he suffered and died, and for us, that means in the washing where we are washed in his blood, in the gospel of his crucifixion that penetrates our ears and confirms us in the faith, and in the body and blood that we eat and drink for the remission of sins.


This is life because, having received God in his mercy, we know how to live.  We know what a genuinely good deed is.  It isn’t complicated.  It’s merciful.  Do you want to please your God who loves you?  Do you want to live a holy life before him?  Do you want live as if what God says about you is true when he tells you that you are righteous in his sight on account of the mercy he has showered upon us in Jesus?  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  That’s what Jesus said.


Mercy doesn’t mean denying sin is sin.  Were that the case, Jesus would have told the women to take her daughter to a psychiatrist or some other kind of human counselor.  No, mercy reckons with evil and doesn’t shrink back from calling a spade a spade and a sin a sin.  But mercy knows that it is far better for a sinner to be forgiven of his sin than to suffer for it.  Mercy knows that bitterness, judgment, hatred, and malice are weapons of the devil himself to take control over us.  Mercy lives under the mercy of God in Christ and from receiving it gives it.


So whenever we come together as Christ’s Church, we come together to sing the Kyrie together, joining with Christians of all ages in finding our true dignity in the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen