PRESCRIPT: After the “Black Saturday” bushfires of February 2009, I created a prayer liturgy as a resource for those congregations seeking a way to express, through worship, their grief and suffering, as well as a way to approach God in faith and hope.
In the wake of the terrible bushfires that have devastated large parts of Australia in late 2019/ early 2020, and which – at the time of writing – continue to burn and inflict loss and suffering, I re-post those prayers here, in the hope that they may be of some use to those seeking a liturgical response to this disaster.
These are offered as an “open resource” – that is to say, they are freely offered and can be modified as seems fit, so long as appropriate attribution is given.
In the Book of Psalms, the word selah marks a period of reflection; it is a call to pause, to stop and listen. In the wake of the terrible bushfires that have inflicted such deep wounds upon so many, we gather to pause and listen: to our grief, to our anger, to our shock, to our despair. We gather to minister to one another, to be present to each person and to our community. We gather to give ourselves permission and space, in our anguish and distress, to cry out to God.
As I share this time of prayer with you, I will occasionally proclaim: selah. We will use this time to stop and listen, to pause and reflect.
2. Prayer of Lamentation
In the face of tragedy and suffering, we stand mute with grief and pain; we are shocked and terrified into silence by the randomness of fate. Numb with horror and fear, scarred by the unfairness of our tragedy, in silent anguish we cry to you:
Lord, where were you in our suffering?
Where were you amid the flames, amid the smoke and heat and terror? Where were you when we were consumed, when we cried out to be saved? Where were you when we desired to live, when we sought to escape from death? Where were you when we wept and prayed for loved ones, hoping they had survived? In our agony and distress, we cry to you: Lord, where were you in our suffering?
Where were you when we received the dreaded news, when our hearts were broken by grief? Was your comfort mute in the face of our loss? Was your Word silent before our helplessness? Was your strength insufficient to protect us from harm? Assailed by doubts and questions and fears, we cry out: Lord, where were you in our suffering?
- Prayer of Adoration
Dying on the Cross, your Son cried out: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” We stand now in the shadow of the Cross, which spans time and generations; we stand at the foot of the Cross of suffering, witnesses to love we cannot comprehend; we stand redeemed by the Cross, by love that pours out in self-giving.
In the shadow of death, in the Place of the Skull, we are brought to life everlasting. For you abdicated power and might, you gave up glory and honour; into our dishonour you placed yourself, into our brokenness you entered. Christ our Lord, Word made flesh, Son of the Most High, Son of Man; in your agony and despair you cried out to God, and captured our grief and sorrow.
Lord, within the arc of Christ’s outstretched arms, you encompass death and embrace horror; all pain, all loss, all grief, all death, all suffering is contained in you, and in your Son, our Saviour. For in love the Father gave the Son to us; in love the Son gave himself for us; in love your Spirit gives to us still.
- Prayer of Thanksgiving
(This section is adapted from the “After the Bushfire” prayer resources provided by the Vic/Tas Synod, Uniting Church in Australia)
Where were you in our suffering? When we cried out to you, did you answer? When we wept did you comfort us? When we prayed, did you respond?
We saw your presence, Lord, in the bravery of those who fought the raging fires; we witnessed your solidarity in the selflessness of those who risked themselves to save others. We saw you in those who opened their homes and provided shelter and safe haven; we saw you in those who saved their neighbours’ homes, while their own were consumed by fire.
We heard your word of comfort in the counsellors and chaplains who allowed us to give voice to our pain; we heard your answer to our prayers in the volunteers who provided meals and gave us clothes.
We heard your response to our anguish in the heart-wrenching generosity of the nation; we heard your answer in the love that flowed from strangers we’ll never know.
Lord, we have felt your strength upholding us in all the shoulders that were available for our tears; we have felt your comfort in the arms that held us when overcome with grief; we felt your comfort in the response that told us we do not stand alone; we felt your comfort in the humanity that rose up to our aid.
And Lord – we saw and sensed your presence in every fallen form, in every place where we were laid low, as you were laid low in your tomb. And we saw and sensed your presence in every grieving, stricken face, as you yourself grieved for Lazarus and lamented for Jerusalem. Lord, in our pain and in our suffering, there was not one place where you were not to be found, or heard, or sensed.
- Prayers of the People
In the midst of tragedy, we have felt your comfort for the bereaved and your strength for those who suffer: let now the prayers of your children who are in despair rise to you. We lift up to you the people of (insert place names) and all the places where wild fire has taken its toll.
For those who have lost loved ones, grant your peace. From our own congregation we name (insert family names) families in their bereavement; and we offer to you in prayer the names of those whom we mourn in the silence of our hearts. For those who have lost homes, property, livelihood and livestock, grant your resilience; for those who are homeless and fearful for the future, grant your safekeeping; for those suffering terrible burns, grant your healing; for those whose lives have been shattered, grant your strength; for those who have lost everything, grant that we may be their hope.
God of wisdom and strength, gracious and ever faithful, who through your Son knows what it is to be fully human, weep with us, reach out to us, befriend us, surround us with your love. Begin a gentle healing, hold us safe and nurture us; grant that we may emerge slowly to new and renewed life in the palm of your healing hands, in the re-creating power of your grace. Each time we look at a fiery sunset, may your Holy Spirit gently touch our tears with peace, until once again we see the sunset for its pure beauty, and the glory of your creation.
In the name of Christ your Son, our Saviour, we pray.