by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
At the Last Supper, Jesus broke the bread and shared the wine with His Apostles. Afterwards, they sang a hymn (Luke 14:26). According to the Passover tradition, this hymn would have been Psalm 118, offering thanksgiving and praise for God’s everlasting mercy. The celebrant chants these words while raising Christ’s body and blood, followed by several chants dedicated to the three persons of the Holy Trinity.
Before we witness the body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear the angels sing “Holy, Holy…” This prepares the congregation for a divine moment. Now the faithful rejoice and praise God’s mysterious and gracious love.
The first chant is dedicated to the Heavenly Father:
“Heavenly Father, who did give your Son to death for us, debtor for our debts, by the shedding of his blood, we beseech you, have mercy upon your rational flock”.
Let us reflect on the meaning behind the lyrics of this beautiful chant. Imagine that you are a parent. How hard would it be to give your child up? Now imagine that the person that you give your child to is someone unworthy. How could a father give up his child? Even so, our Heavenly Father gave His Son up to die for us.
We sin daily. We sin without being careful. Sometimes we sin arrogantly, without thinking that our actions are hurting God. When we sin, we incur debts that can only be repaid by death. When I sin, I must repay my debts. Accordingly, I must die as a consequence of my sins. Our Heavenly Father, however, does not let us pay our own debts! He paid the entire debt of our sins by giving up His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sin. How much must God love us to make such a dear sacrifice? God gives us life, love, and everything on this earth. God gives us free will, with which we sin. And even though we sin, God gives us His Son, who died on the Holy Cross and rose from the dead. Jesus Christ completes our lives. Jesus has paid the price for our debts with His life, crucifixion, death, and glorious Resurrection. The purest love, and the greatest glory in the entire universe, humbled Himself to pay for our sins. There is no greater love in our life.
This hymn puts the faithful at the Last Supper. We should join the choir and praise God for His everlasting love and mercy. We should give thanks to God for the gifts of the Eucharist. We should acknowledge that Jesus, Himself, is the gift. We should realize that Jesus is among us. Can our heart possibly carry enough gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice?
Further, the faithful should think about indebtedness. Debts make life heavier. Working every day to pay debts puts a heavy burden on a person. Imagine, all of the money that you earn by your hard work paying debts. Instead of spending the money on things that improve your life, it pays for nothing. It takes a person’s happiness and peace away. What if the debt that you owe is your life? How would you live your life, knowing that no matter what you do, it will amount to nothing? The Heavenly Father does not let us pay for our debts! He gives us His Son, to die for us, relieve the burden of our debt, and to comfort us. We should rejoice when we sing this hymn, because we are saved from the greatest debt in the world!
Would you pray this with me, in your heart, when you sing this hymn during the Divine Liturgy?
Heavenly Father, there are not enough words to thank You for giving Your Son as payment for our unforgiveable sins. You gave Your Only Begotten Son for our debt, and in return I give my heart and my whole life to You, which I know is not enough. Thank You for showing Your glorious and merciful love through Your Son, Jesus Christ, for whom I am not worthy. My soul will everlastingly praise You, O Almighty God, until I will sit with You in your glory and praise You with all the saints and the angels, for You have the dominion, the honor and glory, forever and ever, amen.