In 1967, Barber set it to words, with only minor changes to the music. The words in Latin are: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Dona nobis pacem.” Translation: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Give us peace.” The piece begins with sopranos singing very softly, but grows as voices are added until it reaches a high point, with all the voices singing loudly, “dona nobis pacem” (give us peace). After a silent break, the music resumes more quietly, repeating the plea, give us peace. The piece lasts about nine minutes. It is hauntingly beautiful in its melody and chord progressions.
I encourage you to think about what Jesus suffered for you as you listen to Agnus Dei. The Son of God became the Lamb of God to take away your sin, that God might show you mercy and give you peace.
As you listen, think about what it means to call Jesus the Lamb of God. Because we are sinners, as we bow before Jesus in repentance and faith, all we can do is plead for mercy. We have no righteousness or merit of our own to offer the Just Judge. God is pleased to show mercy and to save all those who put their trust in the Lamb of God. In Christ, our sin is taken away and we are accounted righteous before God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2). When we who have trusted Jesus as Savor face him as Judge, there will be no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
But it’s easy to forget what it feels like to be overwhelmed with shame and guilt and to plead for mercy as one who has no hope apart from Christ. We don’t often feel the weight of our sin that made the death of Jesus necessary. When you understand that your sin caused Christ’s tremendous suffering, how can you treat sin lightly. It cost God dearly to save us! The more you know and feel the truth about the depths from which you have been rescued, the greater your joy in God’s mercy will be!
It’s appropriate to feel the tremendous sadness of Christ’s suffering and death (Isaiah 53 moves you to feel the grief of our suffering Savior). But we also rejoice in the victory of the cross and in the glory of the resurrection of Jesus: “Hallelujah, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!” Because we have received mercy and peace from God through Christ, we can now join with those in God’s presence who shout: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).