A Prayer Service of Lament for Race & Injustice


job-silohetteLast week I led a prayer service of lament at my church for the racial injustice and violence experienced in our country. I put together the below order for the prayer service and it ended up being a helpful expression for us. I wanted to share this with anyone else interested in using it in their own contexts.

Another benefit of this service is that the contemporary prayers below are not mine or any other white males, but were written by women of color and slightly modified for our context. I hope this acts as a helpful outlet to give voice to our hearts as brothers and sisters.

[Prayer Guide: pdf/docx ; Leader’s Guide: pdf/docx]

Preparation

Encourage other voices that are not typically heard at your church to read the Scripture sections. In the times of silence, encourage open prayer from those sitting in the pews. Allow space for up to 5-10 minutes of silence, and be sure to let people know beforehand to expect such long silence.

Opening Prayer

Let us pray….
God of love, open our eyes to see the suffering of all our sisters and brothers
God of justice, open our ears to hear those who cry out
God of healing, open our hearts to acknowledge and share our own pain and the pain of others
In the power of the Spirit, let us know the truth, and may the truth will set us free from all bondage and blindness

Prayer Cycle 1 

Scripture

A selection from the Book of Habakkuk, written by a prophet of God while living in the midst of sin and destruction within God’s people.

 1 2 O Lord, how long shall we cry for help, and you not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
3 Why do you make us see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before us; strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment is perverted.
12 Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, O Rock, you have marked injustice for judgment.
13 Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; so why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?

Prayer

 Our God and Parent, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who is Ours,

Let us not rush to the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound.
Let us not speak of reconciliation without speaking of reparations and restoration, or how we can repair the breach and how we can restore the loss
Let us not value property over people; let us not protect material objects while human lives hang in the balance.
Let us not value a false peace over a righteous justice.
Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together.
Let us not offer clichés to the grieving, those whose hearts are being torn asunder.

Instead…

Let us mourn black and brown men and women, whose lives and bodies are too often devalued and discarded by a nation whose sins have been too quickly forgotten.
Let us lament the loss of lives by those tasked with protecting and serving the communities they police
Let us weep at a criminal justice system, which is often neither blind nor just.
Let us be men and women willing to mourn and rend our garments of privilege and ease, and sit in the ashes of this nation’s original sin.
Let us be silent when we don’t know what to say.
Let us be humble and listen to the pain, rage, and grief pouring from the lips of our neighbors and friends.

God, in your mercy…
Show us our own complicity in injustice.
Convict us for our indifference.
Forgive us for when we have remained silent.
Equip us with a zeal for righteousness.
Never let us grow accustomed or acclimated to unrighteousness.
Amen.

Leader: O God, in your mercy…
People: “Lord, Hear our Prayer”

[Silence and Open Congregational Prayer is Held]

Prayer Cycle 2

 Scripture

Selections from the Book of Lamentations, written after violence and injustice visited God’s people in the nation of Israel.

120See, O Lord, how distressed we are; our stomachs churn, our hearts are wrung within us, because in the city streets, the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death.
218 Cry aloud to the Lord! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!
19 Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.
20 Look, O Lord, and consider! To whom have you done this?
21 The young and the old are lying on the ground in the streets; young women and young men have fallen by the sword; in the day of your anger you have killed them, slaughtering without mercy.

Prayer 

God, we are stunned and deeply troubled by the killings that occurred last week, and every week, all across our country. We lift prayers to you, asking that your Spirit intercede for us and for this world.

We mourn with those who are suffering the loss of precious members of their family–in Dallas, in Baton Rouge, in Minnesota. May your Spirit give them peace.

We pray that your Church does not become polarized at this moment–may the Church proclaim, with words and with action, both that black lives matter and that acts of brutal violence against public servants are wrong.

May our congregations vocalize God’s definitive “NO” to the murder of black lives. May all of us be awakened and stand alongside the black community, willing to lay aside confusion and questions and to proclaim that this epidemic of police violence must be addressed. May privilege and power be used as a means to raise awareness and demand justice. May leaders feel pressure from all who live in their communities–white, brown, black–and respond with plans to stop the destruction of black bodies.

We lift in prayer the police officers who must show up for work today, who are doing a dangerous job for too little pay, who are personally blamed for the failure of the whole system. Give them wisdom and strength as those whom we rely on to maintain composure, fairness, and a commitment to the common good. Come alongside them, Lord. Grant them protection and empower them to serve justly.

We pray for healing in communities that carry the weight of generations of broken down relationships between law enforcement and the people they are called to serve. We lament our history of racism and pray for love in the face of violence.

May your Church be afflicted in its core again for this sign of a deep sickness in our communities.

May we listen to the prophetic voices speaking truth and pleading for action.

May our prayers find footing, that we might live lives that are answers to our prayers for peace and justice.
Amen.

Leader: O God, in your mercy…
People: “Lord, Hear our Prayer”

 [Silence and Open Congregational Prayer is Held]

Prayer Cycle 3 

Scripture

319 The thought of our affliction is bitterness in our hearts. 20 Our souls continually think of it and are bowed down within us. 21 But this we call to mind, and therefore have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
31 For the Lord will not reject forever.
32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.

34 When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, 35 when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, 36 when one’s case is subverted—does the Lord not see it?

Prayer

 God of the cross and the lynching tree,
of the jail cell and the street corner,
of the bible study and the police car,
look upon the world you have made.

See how it is full of hatred and how violence inhabits the earth.
Gunshots ring out under the heavens that declare your glory,
singing the destruction of your children.

The streets and sidewalks of this world you love flow with blood,
pouring out the cries of your beloveds.
Do you not hear them?

The clanging of cell doors ring out,
tolling the lives stolen by systemic oppression and unspeakable violence.
Do you not hear it?

How long, O God, will you keep silent?
How long will we fail to be your voice?

In these days, as in days past,
our mothers and grandmothers have become mourners.
our fathers and grandfathers have become grievers.
our children have become wanderers in vacant rooms
our communities have become filled with empty chairs.

Remember the people you have redeemed, Holy One.
Remember the work of salvation brought about by your love.

Arise O God and defend the cause of your heart.
Raise up in us the cries of outrage.
Raise up in us commitment to the long struggle for justice.
Raise up in us the determination to drive out racism.
Raise up in us the grief that cannot be comforted.
Raise up in us the courage to speak truth to power, and hope to hatred.

God of the ones with hands up and the ones who can’t breathe,
Of those with power and privilege who try to do their best
Of those tasked with exercising state power and service for us and against us,
Lord, look upon the world you have made.

Do not forget your afflicted people forever
so that we might praise your holy name with joyful lips.
Amen.

Leader: O God, in your mercy…
People: “Lord, Hear our Prayer”

 [Silence and Open Congregational Prayer is Held]

Prayer Cycle 4

Scripture

5 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! 3 We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.
7 Our ancestors sinned; they are no more, and we bear their iniquities.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.

16 The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! 17 Because of this our hearts are sick, because of these things our eyes have grown dim.

 

19 But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.
20 Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days
21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old—22 unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.

Prayer

Oh God, visit us now in our mourning
Be near to us in our lament.

Blood has been shed, precious lives have been lost, evil has had its say.
We acknowledge the hold racism and prejudice have on our national psyche.
Set us free from this bondage.

We acknowledge that violence has been matched with violence, and many are in pain and distress.
Bring healing to us all.

We pray now for the Church in the United States, part of the body of Christ on earth, that it may be a voice of peace, a light of love, working for reconciliation and unity, working for justice.

May we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters; all races, all skin colors, all ethnicities.
May we stand against racism and injustice.
May we stand for love.

Lord, we confess our sins to you:
For all the ways we are complicit in perpetuating racism
For all the ways we have hidden the light of Christ
For all the times we have kept silent
For all the times we have capitulated to fear of ridicule and retaliation
For all the ways we’ve given over to apathy
For all the ways our own prosperity has blinded us to the needs of others.
Forgive us, Oh God.

Protect the innocent Oh God!
Open the eyes of the blind!
Rout out the unjust!
Thwart the plans of the greedy and power-hungry!

May Christ, who re-imagined death, give us inspiration for how to move forward.
May Christ, who said upon rising from the grave, “Peace be with you,” bring us into his kingdom.
May Christ, who did not retaliate but offered forgiveness, share with us his vision.

Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy!

 Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy!

Lord, have mercy
Christ, be our light and peace.
Amen.

Leader: O God, in your mercy…
People: “Lord, Hear our Prayer”

Closing Prayer

 O God, true source of wholeness and peace, in a world bearing fresh wounds of suffering and grief, you call us to be a people of healing. Help us to reach out to neighbors in need, to bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those who weep. Give us the grace to share the comfort of Christ with all those who long for his healing touch. Help us to hold in our hearts and show in our lives what we proclaim with our lips: Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; hope is stronger than despair.

We pray this to you our only God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 [Silence is kept. Please exit the Sanctuary in silence.]

The prayers in the service were modified from the Reformed Church in America Worship page and The Book of Common Prayer, as well as contemporary prayers by Fran Pratt, Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, and Rev. Dr. Sharon R. Fennema.


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