‘Lord, Have Mercy’
People may remember the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were tried in court for espionage against the United States. They were found guilty and were sentenced to death for selling nuclear secrets to the Russians. They died in the electric chair on June 19, 1953. As the final sentence was pronounced, the lawyer for the Rosenbergs pleaded with the court, “Your Honor, what my clients ask for is justice!” Judge Kaufman replied, “What the court has given them is what they ask, justice! What they really want is mercy. But mercy is something this court has no right to give them.”
The One who has the right to give mercy is God.
Several years ago I came across this phrase that I was unfamiliar with but is so simple yet so profound: It is the Greek phrase ‘Kyrie Eleison” which is translated “Lord Have Mercy.” It is an ancient prayer/phrase that has been a part of the historic church since its inception two thousand years ago. (For those familiar with 80’s music Mr. Mister did not invent the phrase! https://www.youtube.
com/watch?v=9NDjt4FzFWY) The phrase is so unique, rich and beautiful that it is the only Greek words used in the Latin Mass. It is repeated in the Liturgical churches every Sunday and as I was raised in the Catholic Church it is a prayer that is embedded in my mind and soul as a prayer response: “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” I knew the English translation but was unfamiliar with the Greek phrase. We find this prayer repeated throughout Scriptures:
David cries out to the Lord: (Psalm 51:1 – 2)
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin
The father whose son is possessed by a demon pleads with Jesus: (Matthew 17:15).
When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him.
“Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
Blind Bartimaeus as he was begging by the side of the road implores Jesus: (Mark 10:47).
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
As I look back on 2017 I find myself praying “Kyrie Eleison”:
The political and racial divide occurring across our country: Kyrie Eleison
Mounting global tensions and the aggression of North Korea: Kyrie Eleison
Sexual harassment and misconduct leading to the “#MeToo” movement: Kyrie Eleison
Mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas: Kyrie Eleison
Terroristic attacks in England, Sweden, the United States and across the globe: Kyrie Eleison
The opioid epidemic which President Trump declared as a “national emergency”: Kyrie Eleison
Hurricanes that devastated parts of Texas, Florida and most of Puerto Rico: Kyrie Elesion
Without God’s mercy we would be lost in our sin. Without God’s mercy our country would not exist. Without God’s mercy the church would crumble and die. Paul writes in Colossians 1:17 “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. “
If it were not for the mercy of God this whole world would literally fall apart! So we do not take it for granted but we pray and plead to the One who holds it all together for us.
I like what Benjamin Williams writes in his book Orthodox Worship:
“The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘Kyrie, eleison’ that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal a very Western interpretation but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.”*
As we look to 2018 let us pray together: “Kyrie Eleison…Lord have mercy.”
What do you think? How does it make you feel?