The Law & Kyrie
By Father Wade Miller
The Old Testament appears full of those dreaded words, Thou shalt and Thou shalt not. The laws of God have a variety of benefits, but the primary purpose is to distinguish that which is holy from that which is unholy and sinful. The Lord is holy. All who enter into His presence are to be consecrated as holy. The instructions, or the Thou shalt and Thou shalt not, serve as an overarching mandate to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45 & I Peter 1:16). Despite all the specific commands, Jesus says that the law can be summarized in that we are to love God with all of our being, and secondly, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).
We say the summary of the law at the outset of the liturgy to remind us of what God desires from His people. The Bible is filled with warnings about those who say one thing, and yet do the opposite. We call such a person a hypocrite. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that every living person is a hypocrite. We do not love God with our entire being. We do not concern ourselves with our neighbor in the same way that we practice self-preservation. Saying the law of God, or its summary, is a reminder that we enter into the worship of God as fallen creatures. That is why we then say or sing the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.”
The law of God was to be first and foremost in the lives of the people of Israel. We read in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” These words are known as the Shema in Hebrew. They are the most important words for the people of God. They are so important that this section of Deuteronomy instructs parents to teach their children the law of God as they sit, stand, and walk (Deuteronomy 6:7). In other words, the law of God was not simply something they repeated once a week in their Saturday sabbath observance; it was the creed and worldview for the people in perpetuity.
Likewise, Christians are to worship the Lord remembering two very important truths. The first is that God is holy and righteous; we are not. As sinful creatures, we are to recognize our failures. This should cause us to enter into the presence of God with great fear and trepidation. The second thing we are to learn is that God desires worship not only from our lips, but from our entire lives. Love is not a feeling or an internal emotion; it is the action of self-giving for the sake of another. Worship is not only something we do on Sunday; it is what we are to do every day of the week. Despite our failure to live up to this standard of loving God with our entire being, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, the Lord desires fellowship with us. That is why God became man in the person of Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ willingly submitted Himself to the will of the Father. He did this for us (His neighbor) by giving up His own life. As we hear in the comfortable words said at Holy Communion, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15).
Our response as baptized Christians is to recognize the standard to love God and neighbor. Although we fail in achieving this love perfectly, we recognize and confess this as our duty. We then ask the Lord to have mercy upon us, believing that grace is found in Jesus Christ – the One who covers our sin. He is the fulfillment of the perfect law of God. Shepherd Massey summarized this point in his book The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary as he noted, “No ‘holy communion’ with God or with our neighbor is possible for us unless we are ready first of all to accept this ultimate demand laid upon us, to acknowledge our sin, to plead for God’s mercy, and to beseech His grace in inclining our hearts to keep His commandments” (pp. 68-69).
The writer of Hebrews summarizes our hope beautifully in the following words, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The law of God is a reminder of what we should be striving to do every day in this life, but it also drives us to the One who loved God and neighbor perfectly. Jesus is the focal point of our worship! As baptized Christians, our goal then is to imitate Him to the best of our ability, asking His mercy whenever we fall short in keeping the law, but rejoicing in his generosity, goodness, and amazing grace.