I was listening to Sandra McCracken’s album, Psalms, a great and prayerful album. Her song, a prayer really, called Lord Have Mercy, struck me as a very important idea in worship. The phrase is the theme of several Psalms. As an example, Psalm 51 begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Ps. 51:1 ESV) It is a prayer of contrition before God, an acknowledgment of one’s sin before God.
The phrase, Kýrie (the vocative of Kyrios), eléison, O Lord have Mercy, has been a part of liturgical worship for centuries in both Greek and Latin worship. I am no expert on liturgical worship, I am a Baptist after all, but it seems to me that this is a vital component of any kind of worship.
As believers, we are being saved by the once and complete work of Christ, an infinite act of mercy. But I deliberately say “being saved” because, though our salvation is rooted in a moment in time, we are still sinners being saved. We are still broken by our sin. We are still crippled in our walk with Christ. We have a great need of God’s mercy.
The Kyrie Elesion should be a part of both private and public worship. It reminds us who we are before God. Now, this is from the perspective of man toward God. I think God sees us as complete. He holds in his mind the completed work and sees us as we are on that day in the resurrection. So, it is doubly bad for us when we violate that vision of God for us. It is sinful, it is a lack of faith, it is like calling God a liar. Yet, we do it and that is why we need to cry Lord have mercy on me. It is foolish indeed to make the claim we are no longer sinners.
There is never a time, in this life, when we can stop thinking of ourselves as sinners before God. We are gloriously and wonderfully saved. But, until that day comes when we are raised with Christ we remain scarred and broken. We are being healed and restored. This prayer reminds us who we are and what we need.
Jesus tells the story of the religious leader, a Pharisee, and a sinner, the Tax Collector, both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee reminded God how wonderful he is since he keeps the whole Law, even goes beyond the Law.
The Tax Collector had no illusions about his spiritual condition. Look at the text. “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!‘” (Lk. 18:13 ESV). He understood his condition before God. He had no illusions about himself. He was a sinner pleading for the mercy of God.
It was the second man who left the temple justified, “‘I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Lk. 18:14 ESV).
Our worship before our great and merciful God requires us to acknowledge that we are sinners being saved by grace. Gratitude calls upon us to be thankful as we ask God for his mercy.
Of course, public and private worship should have other components. We need to praise and adore our God. We need to offer thanksgiving. And we need to be prepared to hear from God through the preaching and teaching of his Word.
Our hearts yearn for that day when we are made complete. We may groan at the condition of our soul. Thus, until that day comes, Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.