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Kyrie Eleison

Mark 13:24-37

The Rev. Jon Roberts

3 December


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”


Darkness at the Crucifixion, Potaki Psalter, 13th C., Paris

When I was young, I thought of growing old
Of what my life would mean to me
Would I have followed down my chosen road
Or only wished what I could be.

Kyrie eleison for the road that I must travel.
Kyrie eleison through the darkness of the night
Kyrie eleison where I'm going, will you follow?
Kyrie eleison on a highway in the night.[1]


You know this song. You may even remember when it came out. You probably heard it while riding in your car, maybe in a shop, an elevator or even the hospital waiting room. Most people know it, but they don’t understand it. It certainly has a Christian background but most people, even Christians, only know it when they sing along those two words repeated in the refrain, “Kyrie Eleison”.

The song was released in December of 1985, not by a cathedral choir, but surprisingly by the rock band, Mr. Mister. According to the lead vocalist, Richard Page, it was never intended to be a song but rather a prayer that reflected their own journey that took them to an unexpected turn in the road. The timing of its release could not have been more perfect when early December marked the beginning of Advent. This is a time where we hear the Kyrie in our worship and in our prayers drawing us into a penitential time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Kyrie Eleison may be cloaked in Latin, but Christians should know the word, “Kyrie”, simply means, “Lord,” while the second, “Eleison” means “mercy.” Put the two together with the proper conjugation of the implied verb, and you have, “Lord, have mercy.”

But what is mercy and why should we ask the Lord to give it to us? This is the season where we prepare for the nativity of our Lord Jesus, with Christmas just around the corner. It is such a short period of time, and the brevity of it all should make us think about how short our lives really are and why we need God’s mercy. From the time of Jesus’ birth and through the road that he must travel, we must consider our own journey and through it, rely on that prayer, “Lord, have mercy.” All the passages of scripture for this Sunday encompass the coming of the Lord, the end of a time, and the life of the believer. It is where our lives intersect the life of Christ, keeping watch in what we thought our life was meant to be verses the path we were called to follow. There lies the conflict as well, when we see some things that don’t go the way we planned. That is also why the church has the tradition of beginning this day with reciting the Ten Commandments. God knows the best plan and how important it is for us to have guidelines that keep us between the lines on the highway in the night. He knew it was best for us to keep only Him as the one true God, to keep the Sabbath holy, to honor our mothers and fathers, to not steal, to not commit adultery and so goes the list. But over the ages, people have wished the life they thought they could be and turned away.

In the eighth century before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah is trying to warn his people about what will happen when the Lord comes, and he finds that they did not go where they should have. He says the Lord will tear open the heavens and the thunderous quaking of the earth will destroy everything and everybody because of their sin, their transgressions, and their iniquity. Because the Lord hid himself from the people, they sinned. Is it possible that God was not in hiding, but rather the sin, transgressions and iniquity prevented them from seeing Him? Is it possible they did not go down the chosen road but rather wished what their lives would be? In those days, they did not have the advantage we now have today with the historical witness of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. They did not see Jesus ahead on their path, but only what they wished who he would be. Exile, war, abductions, and bloodshed would be the road ahead. Perhaps their prayer was the same, “Lord, have mercy.”

Eight hundred years later, Jesus predicts, “In those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give off its light.” What days are Jesus talking about? Is it possible it has no reference to the apocalypse as most would think, but rather the destruction of eternal death? This may be apocalyptic for the devil, but certainly it brings hope to all believers. The prophecy is fulfilled at the Cross, after the punishment and suffering of Christ. At that the, the world seemed like it was at the brink of collapse, to the Roman occupation, just as it appeared in the days of Isaiah, to the Babylonian captivity. The Son of Man, coming in the clouds sends forth his angels to gather up the elect from the four corners of the world, those who have been faithful and observant of his commands. Coming on the clouds is not only a reference to his Resurrection but more fittingly it is the prophecy, cautioning each of us to stay awake and learn to live with the journey we must travel. It is to put away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. “Lord, have mercy.”

The representation of a sun and moon being darkened is this. The sun represents the beginning of our life, and the moon represents the end. When both the sun and the moon are no longer seen there is no life. Yet Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy whereas the Cross intersects the road we must travel. It is a moment of decision to accept him into our lives or reject him. Our sin keeps us away from inviting him to lead and therefore we cry out, “Where I am going, will you follow”; “Will you follow”, we ask our Lord. He will absolutely let you choose your own path. He will let you get worn out by all your plotting in how your life should turn out. Someone who has ever taken a long drive at night will know full well the hazards of drowsiness. Visibility is limited and it is easy to drift. Having to stay awake, alert and knowing the way ahead is most important, but you may hear yourself saying, “Lord, have mercy.” “Just give me the strength to stay awake and to get to where I am going. Whether you are young or old, you’ll need this saying when traveling down the highway in the night. You will need mercy when life does not go according to how you planned it.

“When I was young, I thought of growing old, of what my life would mean to me”. What young person devotes much time to growing old and measuring what their life will be worth? One might say the youth only think about living for today, but that’s not true. The five-year-old is proud when they gain another year, another birthday party, feeling older and bigger. The fifteen-year-old can’t wait to drive and the places they will go. The college graduate thinks about their career track and the climb of the ladder. The parent plans for the future of their children, and eventually for their own retirement. The elderly wonders, where did all that time go? They have arrived at a place where the sun and the moon may no longer cast their light and they take appraisal. They think about the road that they traveled, the people they met along the way, and how their road weaved in and out, over, and down, around and through. Is the path we take one that leads us directly where we thought, or is it one where we all need mercy, because life simply takes a toll?

If you are young, think about getting old, but don’t think about doing it without Jesus. When you grow weary from doing things your way, and not God’s way, you will remember those words. You may be in your car, the store, an elevator, or a hospital but on the road that you must travel Jesus is there. Call upon him by using those two Latin words, “Kyrie Eleison,” or if you prefer in English…“Lord, have mercy.”

[1] “Kyrie”, released in 1985 by Mr. Mister, third verse.
[2] Isaiah 64:1-9
[3] Mark 13:24-37

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