I love Lenten hymns. Of all the church seasons, something strikes me about the penitential season of Lent. The hymns are poignant and the melodies are often beautiful. But sometimes it’s easy to sing through the words without really thinking about the meaning. So with Holy Week upon us, let’s take a look at one such example.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34a)
The hymn “Jesus, in Your Dying Woes” is unique. Yes, it has 21 verses, but don’t let that deter you. There are 3 verses dedicated to each of the 7 words Christ spoke from the cross, so it can be split up throughout a Good Friday service as the passion account is read. The first verse of each section summarizes Jesus’ words as He spoke them. Then the second verse of each section is a prayer to Jesus applying His word to our lives, and the third verse is an extension of that principle in our own lives.
Jesus’ first word was His immortal prayer for forgiveness. He asks His Father to forgive His enemies, even as they nailed Him to the cross, mocking and jeering Him. Much can be said of this selfless attitude, but consider with me verse 2:
Savior, for our pardon sue
When our sins Your pangs renew.
For we know not what we do:
Hear us, holy Jesus. (LSB 447, v 2)
The meaning of “sue” in this context is to “appeal formally to a person for something.” In this case, of course, Jesus is appealing to God the Father. Synonyms as given in the thesaurus include appeal, petition, ask, solicit, request, and seek. Imagine that—Jesus is petitioning His Father even now for your sake. He requests your forgiveness, He solicits your pardon, He seeks your eternal salvation. When Jesus asked God to forgive “them,” He wasn’t just praying for the Roman soldiers and His fellow Jews. No, He prayed for you and for me that day as well. We were there with our sins, for our sins put Him there.
Take heart, dear one, for your sins have indeed been forgiven. Even now Jesus sues for your pardon. Romans 8:34 reminds us that “Christ Jesus…is at the right hand of God, [and] is interceding for us.” We read as well in 1 John 2:1, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Advocate is a legal term, like a defense lawyer. Jesus, our defense lawyer, sues for our pardon before God the heavenly judge. And in Christ, the verdict is in: Not Guilty. Thank you, Jesus!